Hispanic Immigrant Elected In Historic Westchester Election

Columbian Restaurant in Port Chester, NY - Photo: adamclyde/flickr

Columbian Restaurant in Port Chester, NY. (Photo: adamclyde/flickr)

Port Chester, NY—In a groundbreaking election, a Hispanic American has won a seat on this village’s Board of Trustees for the first time. Luis Marino, 43, an immigrant from Peru, was one of six winners in a rare election in New York’s Hudson Valley that attracted national news coverage.

Yesterday’s election was closely watched because it’s the first time “cumulative voting” has been used in New York State in at least 100 years, according to the non-profit FairVote. In this system all of the Board’s seats were up for election and each voter had six votes to cast in any combination they desired. There were 13 candidates on the ballot and one who campaigned for write-in votes.

The new voting system was implemented in an effort to level the playing field for Port Chester’s Hispanic residents, who make up almost half of the village’s population of around 28,000 residents, but have never been able to elect a Hispanic trustee.

The Justice Department sued the village in 2006 under the Voting Rights Act, saying its electoral system denied the Latino population fair representation. A lengthy and expensive legal process ensued, at the end of which a federal judge approved the village’s proposal of cumulative voting (rather than the Justice Department’s proposal of voting districts that would each elect their own trustee). Residents were also allowed to vote up to five days early.

Marino, a Democrat, is already working as a public servant as a member of the Port Chester Fire Department, the Taxi Commission and in a number of other capacities. He has a day job working in the maintenance department of the Scarsdale school system. But the town’s ethnic tension meant that it was by no means guaranteed Marino would win. Westchester County has a rapidly growing Hispanic population, but its political representation hasn’t caught up yet.

In a recent letter of support for Marino posted on LoHud, a website serving New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, the writer was sure to include that Marino is a “true American” who has “assimilated to life in the United States and Port Chester.”

Marino’s success in the new system may be a harbinger for more Hispanic representation in the area, and increased use of cumulative voting as a remedy for discrimination.

There were also two unsuccessful Hispanic candidates: Republican Fabiola Montoya, originally from Columbia, and John Palma, an immigrant from Ecuador.

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