Westchester Town to Challenge One-Man, Six-Votes Policy

New voting system produced a Hispanic candidate after years of futility

A suburban New York village is appealing a ruling that imposed an unusual voting system for local elections.

The Port Chester board of trustees voted 4-2 Tuesday night to hire a law firm to appeal a federal judge's finding that trustee elections were unfair to Hispanics.

Last year, under the new system, residents were given six votes each to cast for any combination of candidates. One Hispanic trustee, the first in Port Chester history, was elected.  The new trustee, Peruvian immigrant Luis Marino, 43,  voted against the appeal.

Village spokesman Aldo Vitagliano said Wednesday that white support for Hispanic candidates in previous elections should have been enough to satisfy the Voting Rights Act. A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which brought the case, would not comment.

The court-ordered election that allowed residents of the town to flip the lever six times for one candidate.

In Port Chester, trustees had been elected two at a time every two years, with conventional at-large voting. Most voters were white, and there were always six white trustees even though Hispanics made up half the population and nearly a quarter of the voters. Judge Stephen Robinson concluded the system violated U.S. law by diluting Hispanics' votes.

The standard remedy was to break a municipality into districts, with one district including many from the minority, thereby increasing the chances for a candidate backed by the minority group. The Justice Department proposed that solution for Port Chester.

But the village of about 30,000 objected to districts. It suggested instead a system called cumulative voting. All six trustees would be elected at once and the voters could apportion their six votes as they wished — all six to one candidate, one each to six candidates or any combination.

The system, which has been used in Alabama, Illinois, South Dakota and Texas, allows a political minority to gain representation if it organizes behind specific candidates. Judge Robinson went for it, and cumulative voting was used for the first time in a New York municipality.

The 2010 Census is expected to show large increases in Latino populations and lawsuits alleging discrimination are likely to increase, said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us