Mount Pleasant officially sued under the state's Voting Rights Act
A New York Supreme Court judge will soon hear the first legal challenge under the state's 2022 Voting Rights Act.
On Tuesday, a group of five Hispanic residents living in Mount Pleasant sued the town over its current at-large voting system, which they claim disenfranchises the Hispanic vote.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act protects New Yorkers against voter dilution, suppression, and intimidation. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed it into law in the summer of 2022 and officially went into effect last July.
The lawsuit was filed seven months after residents first gave the town notice that it was potentially violating the law.
The plaintiffs accused the town's current at-large voting system of preventing Hispanic residents from being able to elect a candidate of their choice. They argue while 20% of the entire town is Hispanic, about half live in Sleepy Hollow and lack representation on the board.
They are suggesting a ward system or ranked-choice voting as a remedy.
"Anything that gives the Hispanic population the ability to have a seat at the table, which they haven't had as far as we can tell forever," attorney for the plaintiffs and Westchester Legislator David Imamura said.
Town officials called the allegations in the lawsuit "salacious."
"Any allegations to the contrary that this board or any member of the town board discriminated against anyone is just patently false," Mount Pleasant Town Attorney Darius Chafizadeh said.
On Tuesday night, the town board unanimously approved a resolution to retain the law firm of BakerHostetler to defend Mount Pleasant in this case. BakerHostetler is one of the nation's largest law firms that has represented other notable redistricting cases in states like Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Michigan.
News 12 reached out to a spokesperson from the firm for a comment on being retained by Mount Pleasant but hasn't heard back yet.
Last year, the town hired a pair of voting rights experts to look at its at-large voting system after the five Hispanic residents notified the town of possible violations. The reports filed late last year found instances of voter dilution where Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters supported different candidates for town office but the candidates backed by white residents almost always won.
The experts told the town to come up with a plan to fix the issue.
But at a pair of contentious public hearings last November, town residents overwhelmingly supported challenging the accusations in court even if it was going to be costly and lengthy litigation.
The town has not yet responded to the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs expect the case to be expedited and are hoping it's resolved by the end of this year ahead of the 2025 town election.