Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cumulative Voting, WTF?

A very interesting and in my opinion disturbing election occurred in Port Chester, NY. In this election for six town trustee positions, a Cumulative Voting System was utilized. Each voter could apply up to six of their votes towards a single candidate for a single trustee position.

These changes were implemented, because according to, "a court ruling which found that the old system limited the collective ability of Port Chester’s Hispanic community to elect a candidate, thus violating the federal Voting Rights Act."

This is truly radical and contrary to founding principles of our Republic for a myriad of reasons. To start off the concept of collective or ethno-political group rights are alien to the constitution, which is firmly based on rights of individuals and geographic communities. In other words, individuals are guaranteed the right to have their voice heard by voting in local, state and federal elections. Elections can be for officials (like a mayor) that directly administer a locality, while others (like a senator) represent the locality in a larger governing body (like the senate). Nowhere in the constitution are ethno-political groups guaranteed a right to elect a representative. In fact, the founding fathers would have considered the growth of ethno-group politics deeply troubling, because it represented a focus not on the general welfare of the community and the nation at large, but on narrow ethno-political interests.

Secondly, it was determined that prior elections were discriminatory, not because an act of discrimination or voter intimidation occurred, but because the results of the elections were ethnically unrepresentative. In a sense this is "electoral socialism," because in a sense, the judge was not concerned about equality of opportunity, but by equality of outcome. In fact, this is a clear case of authorities engineering an electoral outcome that conforms to their ideology.

Furthermore, the system of Cumulative Voting is based on some flawed and troubling assumptions. To start off with, it does not even consider the possibility that Port Chester's Latino Community did not previously elect a Hispanic trustee because many of their members chose non-Hispanic candidates who better represented their economic, social and political values. And the belief that each ethnic group requires a ethno-political representative negates the individuality of its members and the intellectual diversity of the community at large. It assumes that "Roberto Gonzalez" is politically driven by "Hispanic Issues" rather than broader political and economic issues that effect the community at large. This of course treats Latinos as a politically and culturally monolithic group, which is absurd, because there is tremendous diversity within groups and between various Hispanic groups. For example, the Cuban community has a different voting pattern than Puerto Ricans. And clearly, a Cumulative Voting System will indirectly encourage separation in the United States, rather than healthy political and social assimilation. The idea of group voting rights is eerily like something out of the former Soviet Union; if Thomas Jefferson were still around he would certainly ask "WTF?"

Friday, June 18, 2010

Vote system that elected NY Hispanic could expand


The court-ordered election that allowed residents of one New York town to flip the lever six times for one candidate _ and produced a Hispanic winner _ could expand to other towns where minorities complain their voices aren't being heard.

But first, interested parties will want to take a look at the exit surveys.

The unusual election was imposed on Port Chester after a federal judge determined that Hispanics were being treated unfairly.

The 2010 Census is expected to show large increases in Latino populations and lawsuits alleging discrimination are likely to increase, said Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonprofit election research and reform group.

"The country's been changing in a lot of places, with minority growth in exurbs and commuter cities, and there will be a realization that those minorities can't elect candidates of choice," Richie said.

That will leave minority groups, federal prosecutors and municipalities looking for ways to keep elections from violating the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities' constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

In Port Chester, trustees had been elected two at a time every two years, with conventional at-large voting. Most voters were white, and there were always six white trustees even though Hispanics made up half the population and nearly a quarter of the voters. Judge Stephen Robinson concluded the system violated U.S. law by diluting Hispanics' votes.

The standard remedy was to break a municipality into districts, with one district including many from the minority, thereby increasing the chances for a candidate backed by the minority group. The Justice Department proposed that solution for Port Chester.

But the village of about 30,000 objected to districts. It suggested instead a system called cumulative voting. All six trustees would be elected at once and the voters could apportion their six votes as they wished _ all six to one candidate, one each to six candidates or any combination.

The system, which has been used in Alabama, Illinois, South Dakota and Texas, allows a political minority to gain representation if it organizes behind specific candidates. Judge Robinson went for it, and cumulative voting was used for the first time in a New York municipality.

Peruvian immigrant Luis Marino, 43, finished fourth, making him Port Chester's first Hispanic trustee.

"It helped me get elected," said Marino, a Democrat who works in maintenance at the Scarsdale schools. "I will be representing all the people of Port Chester, but I am aware that I can help Hispanics bring their concerns to the board."

Voters also elected a black trustee for the first time: Joseph Kenner, a Republican who was already on the board as an appointee.

The village said Friday that 3,278 residents voted, about 31 percent of those registered, a slightly higher turnout than usual. Hispanic turnout had not been analyzed, but Richie said about a quarter of all votes went to Hispanic candidates.

Marino's victory might prompt other judges to consider cumulative voting as a remedy.

"The way this election was implemented in Port Chester can be an example for other jurisdictions with similar problems," said Randolph McLaughlin, a lawyer who has represented plaintiffs in several voters' rights cases, including Port Chester's. He cautioned, however, that the success was not just due to the unusual election system, but "was the result of the work that went in before the election."

That work _ an extensive voter education program _ was the principal subject of exit surveys. The questions, in Spanish and English, weren't about whom they voted for but about how well they understood the system and what strategy they used in voting.

The survey also asked which of Port Chester's outreach programs _ a website, radio and TV commercials, voter forums, handouts _ were helpful.

Voter education was a requirement of the settlement, but Port Chester officials believe they went beyond their obligation.

"We put so much emphasis on education _ we may have spent $100 a voter _ because we knew it would be critical to success," said village spokesman Aldo Vitagliano. "We also know that the next community can point to Port Chester and say `That's how it's done.'"

Two political science professors _ David Kimball of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Martha Knopf of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte _ were hired to analyze the Port Chester data. Kimball said their report would take a few weeks.

"There's a very important issue here: Were voters comfortable? Did they understand how it works?" Kimball said. "Did they plump (give more than one vote to a candidate)? Did they know they could plump?"

Until there's a separate analysis of the votes, including who did well in Hispanic neighborhoods, it won't be known for sure if Marino was actually the preferred candidate of Latino voters.

"The election of a Hispanic candidate does not necessarily mean that a Hispanic-supported candidate was chosen," McLaughlin said. "But it's definitely a step forward."


  1. Do you know your state used cumulative voting to elect its house of representatives from 1870 to 1980 and many favor its return, including Bill Brady?

  2. I would be interested in hearing their reasoning for supporting cumulative voting.