Feds eye Hispanic vote
Because of the recent surge in Hispanic voters across Long Island, federal monitors will be deployed to polling places throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties tomorrow.
The U.S. Department of Justice is sending the monitors in an effort to protect all citizens' right to vote.
"Because the 2000 census indicated a high Hispanic population in Nassau and Suffolk, they met a certain threshold where federal monitoring automatically comes into play," said Jeffrey Wice, professor of election law at Touro Law Center, in Huntington.
"The Justice Department won't tell us in advance how many monitors will be there, but Long Island is on their radar," said Wice, who also is an election adviser to the Nassau County Legislature.
In past elections, the Justice Department found, Suffolk County did not do sufficient outreach to minority voters. So in July, the county agreed to make an extra effort to educate Hispanic and African-American voters about their rights.
Voters, for instance, are not required to show identification at polling sites. Also, if a citizen's right to vote is challenged, he or she can mark a paper affidavit ballot, submitted under oath, to be approved or denied later.
Voting advocates say the rights of Hispanic voters are under attack nationwide. In rural Georgia, for instance, three white residents have challenged most Hispanic voters' right to cast ballots.
"Hispanic voters are being asked to bring ID, proof of residency, even green cards," said legislator David Mejias (D-North Massapequa), the first Hispanic member of the Nassau County Legislature. "You have get-out-the-vote drives, but you also have vote-suppression drives that are part of a lot of campaigns. It's illegal, it's unethical and it's wrong."
Nassau legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) said he has received several complaints from voters who said they were turned away at the polls. They may have come to the wrong site, for instance, but then not told where to go.
"In many cases, they just go home," said Abrahams. "For far too long, people's votes have been suppressed. Those days need to stop."
Community groups are often in the forefront of voter education.
"We make sure people have the correct information," said Thomas Owens, field operation manager of the Economic Opportunity Commission of Nassau County, a Hempstead-based nonprofit that runs programs for children and families. "We may help with paperwork, encourage them to come out to vote."