Some urge DOJ investigation into alleged disenfranchisement of minorities by ward system

Leading African-American and Haitian-American elected officials are asking the Justice Department investigate the proposed ward referendum in Ramapo because they said they believe it would violate the Voting Rights Act by risking the black community’s 27 years of uninterrupted representation on the Town Board.

Town voters will decide on the plan next week in a September 30 referendum. Currently, members of the board are elected townwide. The referendum would split the town into districs.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” said Councilwoman Charles, a longtime Spring Valley neighborhood watch activist whose father-in-law, Bernard Charles, Sr. was the town’s first-ever African-American councilman when he was elected in 1967.

“In 2003 and 2011, the Rockland Legislature drew so-called minority districts for Spring Valley and Hillcrest after complaints from civil rights groups. But both districts elected white men, not minorities,” Charles said, “Don’t make me promises when I know my history. The Justice Department must intervene immediately.”

African-Americans, Haitian-Americans and Jamaican-Americans comprise only 15.9 percent of Ramapo’s population, but a minority representative has held 25 percent of the voting power on the town council (1 out of 4 votes) continually since 1987. African-Americans occupy influential positions in Ramapo town government, including the Town Clerk’s Office and the chairwoman of Zoning Board of Appeals. Critics complain that at best, there would be one majority Afro-American/Latino district, reducing minority representation from 25 to 16.6 percent and at worst, there would be no minority representation at all.