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GOP official slams NY election lawsuits as secret effort to knock conservatives from office

New York Republicans slammed a series of race-based lawsuits trying to uproot up the voting process in several towns – calling the litigation an effort to bump conservatives from office.

Civil rights lawyers are suing at least three local governments in towns with majority white populations, claiming they’re blocking the elections of black and Hispanics by using “at-large” elections.

“I do believe this is a back door effort by Democrats to eliminate the two party system and wipe out the Republican Party in New York,” said Carl Fulgenzi, the town supervisor of Mount Pleasant – one of the last Republican strongholds in reliably blue Westchester County.

Carl Fulgenzi, the town supervisor of Mount Pleasant, called recent race-based lawsuits as attempts by Democrats to “wipe out the Republican Party in New York.” Town of Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant is one of at least three towns with majority white populations that’s being sued by civil rights attorneys under the Empire State’s John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act along the Republican-dominated town of Newburgh in Orange County and Cheetowaga, a town split between Democrats and Republicans.

More suits may soon follow. The fledling law says the defendants have to pick up the plaintiffs’ legal costs if they’re found violating the law, which some say could encourage a litigation frenzy.

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran as a Republican for governor in 2014, said the suits were “straight out of the Democratic playbook.”

“Make accusations of racism or harm to minorities without proof and demand the rules be changed in their favor,” said Astorino, who served as a Mount Pleasant town board member early in his political career.

“It’s about intimidation to get their way because they can’t win at the ballot box in a fair fight,” he added.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Democratic-run legislature in 2022 approved the new voting rights law, named after civil rights icon and the late Georgia Congressman John Lewis, after expressing concerns that the US Supreme Court and the federal government were retreating on voting rights enforcement during the Trump administration.

There are scores of towns, villages and school districts that have an at-large voting system — where voters of a municipality for all their government representatives as opposed to having the area split into districts or neighborhoods.

Civil rights lawyers have sued at least three towns for allegedly blocking the election of black or Hispanic candidates by using “at-large” elections. Getty Images

The law also says dozens of municipalities with large minority populations — including New York City — will have to file for “pre-clearance” to make any changes to their voting systems with state Attorney General Letitia James’ office, to make sure they don’t negatively affect a minority voting class. The first plans are due in September.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of five Hispanic plaintiffs against Mount Pleasant noted that nearly half of the residents in one of its villages, Sleepy Hollow, are Latino — but a Hispanic candidate has never been elected under the at-large voting system.

“Because white voters make up a majority of the electorate, racially polarized voting with the Mount Pleasant at-large system usually, almost invariably, denies the Town’s Hispanic voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Town Board,” said the lawsuit, filed earlier this year by Robert Spolzino of Abrams Fensterman.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act into law in 2022. Gregory P. Mango

?The same firm also filed the voting right case against Newburgh. Another litigant brought the case against Cheektowaga.

Voting rights lawyer Jeffrey Wice was hired by the local governments to research the matter, and he recommended that Mount Pleasant and the others scrap the at-large voting systems.

“At-large voting systems are vulnerable to a legal challenge. It makes it harder for minority candidates to win at-large districts,” said Wice, also a New York Law School professor.

He recommended that the towns have representatives elected by neighborhood districts rather than at-large, bolster the opportunities for black and Latino candidates to get elected. Or to use a cumulative or ranked-choice voting system.

“The town rejected that approach. They went into another direction,” Wice said of Mount Pleasant.

“This is a sleeper issue. I expect to see more of these lawsuits filed.”

Voting rights lawyer Jeffrey Wice has recommended that Mount Pleasant and other towns get rid of at-large voting systems. New York Law School

Fulgenzi confirmed he and other Republicans on the town board rejected Wice’s recommendations and hired an outside law firm that filed a countersuit claiming the New York voting rights law is unconstitutional, and vowed to take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

Mount Pleasant, he said, provided only limited services to residents in the village of Sleepy Hollow, which has its own government and elections. Mount Pleasant has its own police, fire and garbage pickup but provides mostly only tax collection services for residents of Sleepy Hollow residents, where Hispanic candidates have been elected, he said.

That fact makes the voting rights case flimsy, Fulgenzi claimed.

“I haven’t heard any Hispanic ever come to me and say, `My vote doesn’t matter.’ I have never had anyone say they’ve been disenfranchised. It makes no sense. It’s a slap in the face,” he said.

Fulgenzi said he’s raised the alarm with New York’s Republican leadership.

“If [Republican representation in] Mount Pleasant goes down,” he said, “the Republican Party goes down with it.”

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