The SolutionSince 1987, more than one hundred cities, counties and school districts have settled minority vote dilution lawsuits by enacting ìmodified at largeî, or full representation, voting systems. (These systems are also sometimes called ìproportionalî and ìsemi-proportionalî systems because like-minded groupings of voters generally elect candidates in the proportion of their share of the vote). These programs have been implemented in jurisdictions in Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Choice voting has drawn attention because of its decades of success in providing for the election of racial and ethnic minorities in local elections in Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City and in the past in cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kalamazoo and Sacramento.
The traditional solution to the under representation of ethnic and racial minorities is the creation of "minority-majority" single-member districts, which are drawn so that a community which is a minority of the regions's population as a whole makes up the bulk of the voting population. Such districts have a proven history of affording voters of color an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. In communities where there is already considerable residential segregation, drawing single member districts can help racial and ethnic minorities win fair representation in government. They also ensure that black neighborhoods are likely to have one representative whom residents can seek to hold accountable. Single member districts are common throughout the country and are easily understood by voters as a method of earning representation by diversifying state and local government.
But single member districts can have drawbacks. Those drawn with the primary goal of establishing black electoral opportunities have been under legal and political attack following the Supreme Courtís decision in Shaw v. Reno and subsequent cases to disallow gerrymandering based on race. These challenges are particularly problematic in racially polarized communities or states where the black community is dispersed, as non-compact districts are held to strictest scrutiny. Moreover, single-member districts must be redrawn after every census (as in 2000), thus putting representation of racial and ethnic voters in many communities at risk every ten years. Annexations and population shifts during a decade can also threaten strong representation for the black community by turning black opportunity districts into districts likely to be controlled by white voters. Finally, one-winner districts can make it harder to form bi-racial or multi-racial electoral coalitions than with multi-seat districts in which candidates from different racial groups or communities of interest can run together as a team.
Conversely, the success of changing to full representation election systems can be see in Amarillo, Texas where after switching to cumulative voting in 2000 voters elected their first Black and Latina school board members, using cumulative voting. These two quotes form the Amarillo Globe-News, May 2000 help to illustrate the positive effect that full representation voting systems can have on ethnic and racial minorities.
We are very excited, pleased and basking in the historical moment of this, It gave minorities the prospect that we can make a difference; our vote can make a difference and we can be an integral part of the process.
-Alphonso Vaugn, Amarillo NAACP President -
We were hoping one of the minority candidate would be elected, The fact that we got two minorities on the board is awesome. History was made in Amarillo.
-Nancy Bosques, a Potter County justice of the peace and a local leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens-