Voters turned out in record numbers this weekend for the first contested Plaquemines Parish county Council election in 15 years, and sent a black man and a woman into runoffs for the first time.

Elections officials estimated voter turnout at 77 percent. The election marked the end of political domination by the Perez family machine, whose candidates had drawn no opposition since 1967 and only token opposition in the last six decades.

Forty-three candidates joined in the race for the seven open seats on the board, which until recently acted only as a rubber stamp for former parish president Chalin Perez. All seven races were thrown into a Feb. 26 runoff.

Among those voted into runoffs Saturday was Ernest Johnson, a black man whose discrimination suit filed eight years ago brought about the federal court order demanding the reorganization of the council and a new election.

Also in the runoff is Germaine Curley, who faces former parish assessor Brian Bubrig.

No black or woman has served on the council since its formation 21 years ago.

The at-large system was challenged in 1975 by Johnson and another black, Merlis Broussard, who claimed the system unconstitutionally diluted black voting strength.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Heebe in 1977 prohibited further elections until the suit was settled, and later ordered the parish to adopt a nine-member council elected by district. On appeal from the council, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Heebe's ruling last fall and ordered the election.

Chalin Perez stepped down rather than serve on the restructured board.