The Village of Port Chester, New York has hired Dr. Lisa Handley, an expert in voter data analysis and voting patterns among Hispanics, to help decide the future of its electoral system. The Board of Trustees authorized payment to Dr. Handley of up to $20,000.
A voting expert is needed following the settlement of a voting-rights case between Port Chester and the U.S. Department of Justice. Port Chester needs to choose a new electoral system before the village’s next election in 2019.
Voting Rights in Port Chester
In 2006, the United States filed a complaint against Port Chester, alleging that its at-large system of electing its Board of Trustees diluted the voting strength of its Hispanic citizens in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, Port Chester has a population of 29,524 and the majority of its population is Hispanic.
The resulting federal consent decree mandated that Port Chester use a “cumulative voting” system and implement an extensive Voter Education Plan including bilingual information and training sessions, educational brochures, notices and advertisements, exit polling, and a bilingual program coordinator.
Using cumulative voting, all six of Port Chester’s trustees are elected at once and voters are allowed to apportion their six votes in any way — all six votes could go to one candidate.
Prior to the federal consent decree, no Hispanic candidate had ever been elected to the Board of Trustees. In 2010, following the implementation of the new cumulative voting system, Peruvian immigrant Luis Marino became Port Chester’s first Hispanic trustee.
The federally mandated voter protections were to remain in place for the next three Trustee elections. The consent decree did not give guidance on how to proceed after those three elections. Port Chester’s next village election will be in March 2019.
Dr. Lisa Handley
Dr. Lisa Handley testified as an expert witness in this case in 2007 and 2008. Handley’s expertise is “in the fields of racially polarized voting, analyzing voting behavior, statistical analysis of voting, and the effect of electoral practices of minority participation and representation.” Dr. Handley used three methods of statistical analysis to review election data and analyze how voters cast their votes in each election. In 2007, Dr. Handley testified that Port Chester’s voting was “racially polarized and the Hispanic-preferred candidate is usually defeated.”
Dr. Handley received her PhD from George Washington University and is president of Frontier International Electoral Consulting in Maryland.
Port Chester has also requested opinions on the legality of continuing the current system from the New York State Board of Election, the New York State Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Justice.
Village Attorney Anthony Cerreto has stated that the final decision on the electoral system will likely be voted on by the Board of Trustees and may also require a public referendum. Cerreto said, “The board intends to have a public, inclusive, transparent process throughout.”