WASHINGTON - A federal judge has ruled that the at-large system of election used by the Village of Port Chester, N.Y, to elect its trustees violates the Voting Rights Act because it discriminates against Hispanics, Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, and Michael J. Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today.
In a 56-page decision dated Jan. 17, 2008, and released on Jan. 22, 2008, the Honorable Stephen C. Robinson in White Plains, N.Y., ruled that after performing a “thorough and careful analysis,” he concluded that “the Village of Port Chester’s at-large system for electing its Board of Trustees violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The United States filed a complaint on Dec. 15, 2006, alleging that Port Chester's at-large system of electing its governing Board of Trustees diluted the voting strength of the Village's Hispanic citizens, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The same day, the United States filed a motion to enjoin Port Chester from using its at-large election system on March 20, 2007, to elect two new trustees. On March 2, 2007, following a 10-day hearing, Judge Robinson issued a preliminary injunction enjoining Port Chester from proceeding with its March 20, 2007, election, finding that the United States had shown that it was likely to prevail on its claim. The court’s decision today came after an additional five days of testimony and post-trial briefing.
According to the evidence at trial, and as cited in Judge Robinson’s opinion, the 2000 census shows that almost half of Port Chester's residents, and 22 percent of Port Chester's citizens of voting age, were Hispanic. By July 2006, the number of Hispanic citizens of voting age had increased to about 28 percent. Despite these figures, no Hispanic has ever been elected to Port Chester's municipal legislature, the six-member Board of Trustees. Indeed, no Hispanic has ever been elected to any public office in Port Chester, despite the fact that Hispanic candidates have run for office six times – twice for the Board of Trustees, and four times for the Port Chester Board of Education, which manages a school system that is overwhelmingly Hispanic.
In ruling for the United States, the court also found that:
• A six-district plan could be drawn for Port Chester in which Hispanics would constitute a majority of the citizen voting age population in at least one district;
• Hispanics in Port Chester voted cohesively for their candidates of choice and that these candidates of choice were routinely defeated;
• Voting in Port Chester is polarized by ethnicity;
• Hispanics in Port Chester suffered from the lingering effects of discrimination that negatively affected their ability to participate in the political process; and
• Racial appeals – in particular an anti-Hispanic flyer in the 2007 mayoral race – had marred recent political campaigns.
“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling that Port Chester’s election system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “This ruling will compel Port Chester to adopt an electoral system that will enable Hispanic voters to participate with all other voters as equals in the electoral process.”
Mr. Garcia stated: "Judge Robinson noted in his decision that a citizen, later appointed to Port Chester's Voting Rights Commission, argued that Port Chester should be exempted from the application of the federal Voting Rights Act. Fortunately for the minority citizens of that Village, whose federally protected voting rights were diluted by Port Chester's at-large election system, the Act applies in full force there, as it does in every municipality. We hope that Port Chester will move forward and work with us to develop a district-based election system that remedies the violation of the Voting Rights Act that Judge Robinson has found."
The court ordered the parties to file proposed remedial plans in writing with the court within three weeks, and stated that the court would thereafter schedule a one-day hearing on the proposed remedies.
Since October 2006, the Department of Justice has won four lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Additional information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/index.htm.