No Hispanic has won elective office in Port Chester, despite being nearly half Latino. That fact has been oft-repeated in the voting rights case, which found that the election system discriminated against Hispanics. But the absence of Hispanic officials is technically beside the point. The Justice Department wanted to highlight this issue after my recent story about the latest development in the case.
“The issue for the Government is not Latinos winning elective office,” spokesman Herb Hadad points out. “It is that candidates supported by Latinos have never won. We have filed numerous briefs in this case that list white Italians as the preferred candidates of choice of Latinos. These candidates lose too.”
What the government needed to prove in this case was that Hispanics were politically cohesive and voted as a bloc, and that the white majority voted sufficiently as a bloc to defeat the minority’s choice. Judge Stephen Robinson wrote in his decision:
The evidence here is clear that in 12 of the 16 elections this Court views as most probative in this case, the candidates of choice of Hispanic voters in Port Chester were defeated by the candidates of choice of non-Hispanic voters.
He notes that Hispanics did see their preferred candidate win in three recent elections – Mayor Dennis Pilla’s victory in 2007 and two trustee races in 2006. But that doesn’t negate the overall trend, he wrote.
In sum, it is clear to this Court that Hispanic voters and non-Hispanic voters in Port Chester prefer different candidates, and that non-Hispanic voters generally vote as a bloc to defeat Hispanic-preferred candidates.
(For the record, only two Hispanics have ever been on the ballot for village board: Jose Santos, as a Republican, in 1992, and Cesar Ruiz, as a Democrat, in 2001. Both finished last.)
The Justice Department is proposing that Port Chester hold a special election next year for all six trustee seats. This time each trustee would represent a particular district, and one of those districts would have a Hispanic majority among eligible voters. After the special election, two trustee seats would be up for election each year.
The village is proposing to elect all six at-large trustees simultaneously through cumulative voting. Voters would be able to cast up to six votes for the same candidate.