The Village does not have to intend to discriminate against minority voters to violate the VRA. The test in these cases looks at the following factors, known as the Gingles test (based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986)):
(1) the minority group must be sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district;(2) the minority group must be politically cohesive and vote as a bloc; and(3) the white majority must vote sufficiently as a bloc to enable it, in the absence of special circumstances, to defeat the minority's preferred candidate.
But it's not enough to win the case if the Gingles factors are met. The court must consider whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the challenged practice impairs the ability of the minority voters to participate equally in the political process." As Judge Robinson noted, though, courts around the country have ruled that the municipality will usually lose if the Gingles factors are met.
So why did Port Chester lose the case? First, Hispanics are sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district. They are also politically cohesive and vote as a bloc. By way of example, experts analyzed 16 Village elections, finding that "in all of the 16 contests . . . Hispanics were cohesive. . . . and in 2001, when the Trustee election included Ruiz, a Hispanic candidate . . . virtually 100 percent of Hispanics who voted in that election cast one of their votes for Ruiz, the Hispanic candidate." Moreover, the white majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it, without special circumstances, to defeat the minority's preferred candidate.
The district court relied on experts for these findings. But experts do not always a dull trial make. Judge Robinson uses restrained but strong language in rejecting the proposed methodology offered by one expert in defending the Village's voting patterns:
Dr. Weber believes that in order for there to be non-Hispanic bloc voting, 60 percent or more of non-Hispanics have to coalesce or vote for a particular candidate. He concedes, however, that his choice of percentage is an arbitrarily assigned number that is "simply a number at which [he] feel[s] comfortable." Dr. Weber put forth no scientific or statistical basis from which this Court could conclude that there is reason to believe that 60 percent is the correct number as opposed to 55 percent or 65 percent or some other number, even if it accepted the concept of a minimum threshold requirement for non-minority bloc voting. On this point, Dr. Weber is out, alone, on a rather thin branch. Not only could he point us to no court in the United States that has accepted his cohesion requirement for non-minority bloc voting, but he also admits that he knows of no other expert in the field who has adopted or agreed with his non-minority cohesion requirement. Therefore, it goes without saying that no court or expert in the field has ever endorsed a 60 percent cohesion requirement for non-minority bloc voting. This Court declines to be the first.
Under the catch-all totality of the circumstances test, Port Chester also loses. According to Judge Robinson, Port Chester's history of racial discrimination at the ballot box, including its failure to provide Spanish interpreters, certainly doesn't help its cause here. One Village official "suggested that Port Chester's representatives in Congress should introduce an amendment to exempt the Village from the requirements of the Voting Rights Act." In addition, the Village's electoral calendar -- holding Village elections in March rather than November -- tends to depress minority voter turnout, and "there is some history of official discrimination in Port Chester that continues to touch the rights of Hispanics to participate in the political process." Equally problematic for the Village, a recent election there was marred by racial appeals. "[T]he fact that such a blatant racial message -- one which several witnesses conceded was racist -- emerged in the midst of the ongoing proceedings in this case is troubling to this Court."