September 20, 2017
Members and friends of the Sustainable Port Chester Alliance turned out for Monday’s Port Chester Board of Trustees meeting to demand that the process for selecting a new voting method for Village elections be inclusive and transparent.
At the meeting, we put forward a set of simple recommendations that would instill confidence among residents that the people of Port Chester have a real say in how we choose our elected representatives. In short, we strongly urged the BOT to:
1. Collaborate with community and faith-based organizations to immediately establish a commission of Port Chester residents to study voting systems and make recommendations. This commission should collaborate with the voting expert the Village is retaining. (Just as a commission studied the school bond issue, so should a commission be empowered to help design our new voting system.)
2. Make publicly available all voting and registration data compiled by the voting expert retained by the Village.
3. Hold public hearings and workshops, and create other opportunities for Port Chester residents to have a real say in how we elect our leaders.
4. Refrain from making any decisions about the election system in Executive Session, i.e. out of public view.
The Board must commit to an inclusive and transparent process because this issue is too important to be decided by a privileged few. The right to vote is among the most sacred rights within a democracy.
Unfortunately, Port Chester has not always made sure this right is protected for all. The Department of Justice lawsuit against the Village shone much-needed light on the ways the old at-large system served to minimize – and for all practical purposes discriminate against – persons of color participation in the democratic process.
We believe the majority of Port Chester residents do not want to return to the antiquated and divisive “at-large” system.
While the Village has made progress towards greater representation under cumulative voting – finally there is racial and ethnic diversity on the Board – voter turnout in Village elections remains dismally low.
It is time for a new election system that will foster greater participation and confidence in Village government among all residents. It’s time for a system that will lead to greater representation for people living outside the Village’s most affluent neighborhoods.
As supporters of the Alliance, we urge the Board to work closely with the community in designing a voting system that will encourage the greatest possible number of residents to exercise their sacred right to vote and elect a truly representative Village government.
Carlton Thomas Kissner
Austa Devlin, Esq.
Robert Kiggins, Esq.