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A report completed for the Town of Mount Pleasant and posted to the town’s website Wednesday concluded that the municipality’s voting in local elections is racially and ethnically polarized and will likely require remediation.
Election law experts Dr. Lisa Handley and Jeffrey Wice, who were retained by the Town Board in August after a group of five residents claimed they have been disenfranchised, found that the current at-large system of voting for council members diluted the votes of the town’s sizeable Hispanic population.
Mount Pleasant’s population is 68.7 non-Hispanic/White and 18.9 percent Hispanic, according to the 2020 U.S. Census. Despite nearly one in five residents being Hispanic, virtually all of that community’s preferred candidates have lost town elections. The Village of Sleepy Hollow, which is about 50 percent Hispanic, is part of the town.
“All six of the recent Mount Pleasant elections I analyzed were racially/ethnically polarized, with Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters consistently supporting different candidates,” Handley’s report concluded. “The candidates preferred by Hispanic voters won only one of the six polarized contests.”
The only victory the report cited was in 2018 when a special election was needed to fill a vacancy on the Town Board. Since that year featured a gubernatorial election and a congressional mid-term election, turnout was much greater, it noted.
The report, dated Nov. 9, was posted the day before the first of two public hearings the town will hold on the issue. The hearing on Thursday will be at Town Hall in Valhalla at 5:30 p.m. The second hearing will also be at Town Hall on Monday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.
Handley wrote that she carried out the analysis of voting patterns by race by constructing an aggregate level database to examine the results in individual election districts. Information relating to the demographic composition of these districts and the results of recent elections district by district were collected, merged and statistically analyzed to determine if there is a relationship between demographic composition and support for specific candidates across the precincts, she stated.
Since Hispanics represent a large enough portion of the population, a statistically reliable estimate could be derived, Handley reported. The same could not be achieved for the Black and Asian communities because they represent 5.2 and 4.6 percent of the town’s population, respectively.
Examples of remediation could include switching to a ward system rather than at-large council seats, enlarging the size of the board, requiring expanded opportunities for voter registration and additional voter education, among others steps. the report stated.
The report was generated after five town residents called on the town to change to a ward system or some other voting method under the 2022 New York State Voting Rights Act.
In a July 13 letter to the town, the group of residents maintain that Mount Pleasant is in violation of the new law because years’ worth of election data reveals “significant and persistent patterns of racially polarized voting with regards to Hispanic voters.”
In August, David Imamura, one of the attorneys for the group of residents, said regardless of the year, Hispanics continue to fail to have any representation on the Town Board despite their growing numbers.
“If you look at local elections in Mount Pleasant, it is clear that the Hispanic community is voting for candidates that are losing over and over and over again,” Imamura said at the time. “We should not have an electoral system where the Hispanic population once in a century is able to elect a candidate of their choice.”
On Aug. 25, the Town Board approved a resolution to review the claims and hire Handley and Wice to analyze the data. That step required the town to hold two hearings within 90 days of the resolution, which are now being held.
It is believed that Mount Pleasant is the first municipality in the state to be challenged under the state Voting Rights Act.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/