Judge Decrees Demographic Election

The town of Port Chester, N.Y., voted Tuesday in its first election for village trustees under a new voting system enforced on the town by a federal judge that ends the time-honored system of "one man, one vote" in order to arrive at a demographically desired result.

A complaint against the town was originally filed by the Bush Justice Department under Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales challenging Port Chester’s “at-large” voting system during which each eligible voter in the town could vote for any of the candidates for trustee.  More precisely, each voter could cast two votes, but not two for the same candidate.

Gonzales argued that the system “results in Hispanic voters having less opportunity than white voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” His reasoning was that if the town were divided into districts rather than using at-large representation, the geographical concentration of Hispanics within particular parts of the town would mean that a Hispanic would very likely be elected. Meanwhile, no Hispanic had ever been elected to the Port Chester Board of Trustees or Board of Education or to the office of Mayor.

Part of the plaintiffs’ argument rested on a 2001 trustee election in which Hispanics in the village voted “cohesively” for the one Hispanic candidate, Cesar Ruiz, who nevertheless did not win a seat – and was a co-plaintiff on the case.

Federal Judge Stephen Robinson, an appointee of President George W. Bush, accepted the government’s argument and forced a new “cumulative” voting system on the town, by which each voter gets as many votes as there are positions to be filled (six in this case) and can cast those votes in any manner among the candidates, including all for one candidate, two for each of three candidates, one for each candidate, etc. (See Decision and Order.)

The result of the election showed that the judge’s and government’s intentions were met: A Hispanic won a seat on the village council. (Additionally, a black Republican won a seat, the first time an African-American won a city-wide race.)

An Associated Press report on the new election system says that “the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic.”  However, the original government complaint, based on the 2000 Census, says that while 46% of the town’s total population was Hispanic, only 22% of the citizen voting age population is Hispanic, with just over 65% non-Hispanic white and 9% black. This is a remarkable statistic in light of the data that Port Chester’s voting age population including non-citizens included 9,362 Hispanics, but citizens of voting age included on 3,068 Hispanics.  In other words, 2/3 of the town’s Hispanic adults, based on year 2000 data, were not citizens.

It’s also difficult to compellingly argue that Hispanic candidates are routinely discriminated against by white voters in Port Chester. First of all, over the past decade, Ruiz was the only Hispanic candidate for trustee, and there has never been a Hispanic candidate for mayor.  Secondly, there is no evidence that non-Hispanic voters cast ballots “cohesively” for a single candidate in order to defeat whichever candidate, Hispanic or not, was the preferred candidate of the town’s Hispanic population.

Furthermore, the town’s Hispanics have, on average, a lower level of income and a much lower level of education than the non-Hispanic white population.  According to one analysis, “approximately 55% of Hispanic men and 48% of Hispanic women aged 25 or older had attained less than a high school education, while only 14% of white men and 16% of white women were limited to this level of education.”  These facts make lower levels of political participation by Hispanics an understandable, if regrettable, outcome of a situation which is nobody’s fault; differences in political participation should never have been accepted as a basis for arguing to change the town’s election system.

The government made other claims about Port Chester’s election which sound more like an inflammatory lecture by a community activist than serious or fact-based information, including:

· Port Chester’s Hispanic citizens bear the socioeconomic effects of historic discrimination and their depressed socioeconomic status hinders their ability to participate in the electoral process on an equal basis with whites.

· The Port Chester Board of Trustees employs voting practices or procedures such as staggered elections that enhance the discriminatory effects of the at-large election method.  

· Certain recent local political campaigns have been characterized by overt or subtle racial appeals.  (This based primarily on a flyer in one election that certain townspeople found objectionable.)

While it’s easy to be sympathetic to arguments that there might be inherent racism in a community (putting aside the fact that Hispanic is not a race), the government’s “remedy” takes the first step down a very dangerous path.  If it’s OK to change the time-honored system of “one man, one vote” simply to achieve a desired election outcome for Hispanics, why stop there?  Why not change elections in areas where radical environmentalists, or Wiccans, or gays or alpaca farmers don’t get their favored candidates elected?
Certain aspects of the court’s order are particularly galling to those whose primary dissatisfaction with current Hispanic immigration is the perceived lack of assimilation into American culture.  As if having a judicial-made voting system doesn’t already say enough about the low regard for the rule of law, the Consent Decree also requires “assistance in the Spanish language regarding all aspects of the electoral process, including but not limited to voter registration, voter registration cancellation, absentee voting, early voting … procedures at the polls including translation of the ballot, and training of polling officials and translators.”  The town was also required to hold 12 “general public forums in anticipation of the June 15, 2010 trustee” election, of which six were to be in English and six in Spanish, with at least four such forums in each language for future elections.

Furthermore, the judge allowed the use of “Affidavit ballots” by which “the voter must swear that they (sic) are a registered voter and provide a current address,” an obvious invitation to election fraud.

If any remedy were appropriate to a questionable “problem,” it might have been changing the at-large system of trustee election to a district-based system. In that case, “one man, one vote” would have been preserved while the geographical concentration of Hispanics in one or more districts would (at least in the absence of racially motivated gerrymandering) have all but guaranteed that at least one Hispanic-preferred candidate would be elected.  Indeed, that seemed to be the direction that the Bush Administration’s original complaint was leaning.  However, the judge rejected just such a proposal.

In the meantime,  adding to evidence including Democrats’ tactics in passing Obamacare, Obama’s strong-arm treatment of BP, and the administration’s cram-down of Chrysler and GM bondholders, Judge Robinson’s electoral tampering has added fuel to the fire of those who argue that America is drifting away from the rule of law.