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Synthesis/Regeneration 29   (Fall 2002)

May 4 Election Declared Great Success in Amarillo, Texas

Cumulative Voting a Boost for Minority Community

Center for Voting and Democracy

On Saturday, May 4, 2002, cumulative voting was used to elect three members to the school board in the Amarillo Independent School District (ISD). The Amarillo ISD is the largest American jurisdiction using cumulative voting, with more than 160,000 people. In the two elections since cumulative voting was adopted to a settle a minority voting rights challenge in 1999, the school board has gone from all-white to having 4 white representatives, 2 Latino representatives and 1 black representative.

“This was an important election. It was our second attempt at getting another minority on the school board in Amarillo,” said Rita Sandoval, 1 of the 2 minorities elected to the school board in 2000. Amarillo holds staggered elections where approximately half the board is elected every two years.

For minorities seeking to elect someone from their community to the board, cumulative voting certainly was a success. Latina challenger Janie Rivas was successfully elected, gathering the second highest vote total. The other two winners were a white challenger and a white incumbent. A white incumbent was defeated. “Initial results show that Janie Rivas benefited from cumulative voting,” reports Dr. David Rausch, assistant professor of Political Science at West Texas A&M University.

Cumulative voting was enacted as a settlement to a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three individuals against Amarillo ISD. The groups were seeking a fairer election system under the Voting Rights Act because the former at-large election system diluted the Latino and African American vote. With cumulative voting, the voter can distribute their votes more freely among the candidates. The number of votes remains the same as the number of positions elected, three votes in this year’s election. However, voters have more choice in distributing their votes, giving their favorite candidates anywhere from one vote to all three. Many voters in the Latino and black communities gave Rivas all three of their votes.

…voters have more choice in distributing their votes, giving their favorite candidates anywhere from one vote to all three.

“Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is very pleased that the positive results of our lawsuit have continued through the second election cycle after the adoption of cumulative voting,” reports staff attorney Nina Perales who helped argue the 1998 lawsuit for the minority community.

Amarillo is among 57 jurisdictions in Texas that use cumulative voting. In 1995, then-Governor George W. Bush signed legislation to facilitate enactment of cumulative voting in school board elections. “The eyes of the minority voting rights community were focused on Amarillo. This election was seen by many as a test of the ability of cumulative voting to work for the minority community,” said Joleen Garcia, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a national organization that promotes fair election systems. “For those who work for better election systems and fair representation, this was an important victory.”

For more information on cumulative voting and electoral reform in the United States, see http://www.fairvote.org/.

Contact: Joleen Garcia, 210-534-4935; or national office, 301-270-4616

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