New Voting System Shakes Up Election in Port Chester

The votes were still being tallied but Democratic supporters were already celebrating. Democratic candidates for the six village trustee positions had gathered at the Brisa Marina Grill on Grace Church Street in Port Chester to watch the returns. 

By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Luis Marino, a 30-year resident of Port Chester who hails from Peru, was roughly third in the race for votes, giving him a comfortable position among the candidates jockeying for six spots.

"I am very excited and so are all my supporters who believed in me," said Luis Marino, who was surrounded by well-wishers. "I think the cumulative voting system worked in my favor."

The cumulative voting model was crafted by order of a federal judge and the U.S. Department of Justice to help boost Hispanic representation. Voters are electing village trustees for the first time since the federal government alleged in 2006 that the existing election system was unfair.

Although the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic, no Latino had ever been elected to any of the six trustee seats, which until now were chosen in a conventional at-large election.

Federal Judge Stephen Robinson said that violated the Voting Rights Act, and he approved a remedy suggested by village officials in which residents get six votes each to apportion as they wish among the candidates.

"It gives voters this greater flexibility -- more options more choices," said Rob Richie of the group FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group that has been hired to consult. "A voter could choose to vote for one person six times or two candidates three times or three candidates twice. It gives them a much better chance to win."

Two Hispanic candidates were on the ballot and a third as a write-in candidate. At the time this article was published, Luis Marino appeared to be the only Hispanic candidate who won a seat. But all parties were still waiting for the counting of roughly 600 early and absentee votes.

Some residents embraced the new voting system like Terrell Foust who said, "It's a better voting situation; the town has to speak for itself."

Others found the new system strange and confusing. One resident asked, "How come only this village? How can one man, a judge, tell us when and how we can vote? I don't understand it."

Spanish language translators were available at polling places to explain the voting process as Justice Department observers watched.

Salvatore Garcia is originally from Mexico but has lived in Port Chester for nine years. He is voting for the first time because of an aggressive voter outreach campaign.

"I feel we have to come out and show support for the Hispanic community," said Garcia. "We can make things better for ourselves."

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