It was a rather skeptical-looking crowd at Port Chester’s first public information session about cumulative voting, held Saturday morning at the senior center. Village officials and experts gave an enthusiastic and detailed presentation about the system to be used in the June 15 trustee election — the court ordered remedy meant to address discrimination against Hispanic voters under the old at-large system.
There were still notes of resentment here and there over the case brought by the Justice Department in 2006, and a recurrent question on how election officials will verify a person’s eligibility to vote (i.e., a person’s citizenship status). There were procedural questions from party reps, and larger questions about how the system would be deemed successful or not.
Amy Ngai of the organization FairVote said, “It’s a successful election if you all can participate and feel like your voice was heard.”
Mayor Dennis Pilla paraphrased U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson’s comments that “the objective here is to encourage opportunity. It’s not guaranteeing a result.”
The village pressed for cumulative voting over the more traditional remedy of single-member districts.
People are still wrapping their heads around the notion that they can cast their six votes in any combination, spreading them among several contenders or allotting, say, all six for the same candidate if they want. Ngai reminded listeners of the many things that were NOT changing under the new system. You still get just one vote for every open trustee seat. You still follow the same nominating process to get on the ballot and the same voter registration forms. You still use the lever machines at the same polling place as before. (This time, though, there’s an opportunity for early voting the week prior to the election at village hall.) One huge difference: all six trustee seats come up for election the same year, rather than two at a time under the old way.
There’s much to discuss, and many opportunities to do so between now and June. A consent decree mandates a series of public sessions, six in English and six in Spanish. (Spanish translators will also be available at the English-language meetings.) The next sessions are Saturday, March 27, in the Don Bosco Community Center, 10 a.m. for the English forum and 1:30 p.m. for the Spanish forum. The meetings will include information for potential candidates on the qualifying process.
Other dates and times will be posted on the “Port Chester Votes” site. I’ll be posting some video from the presentation here on this blog.