Cumulative vote set for 2nd act
Turnout is key to making it work

Published April 7th 2002 in Amarillo Globe-News

So far, so good on Amarillo's experiment with something called "cumulative voting."

The public school district's second chapter on the new voting plan commences May 4 with the election of three Amarillo Independent School District trustees.

The success of the voting plan likely will rest in the voter turnout. Let us hope it grows - and keeps growing.

AISD voters in 2000 elected the first Hispanic woman to the board, Rita Sandoval, as well as the first African-American, James Allen. Even better news was that these two candidates brought significant qualifications to the campaign and have served the district ably during the past two years.

Cumulative voting was the result of a lawsuit brought against AISD by civil rights groups contending that the district's former at-large election system discriminated against minority candidates. School trustees approved the cumulative voting plan as a way to end the lawsuit.

The voting plan approved by the school board allows voters to cast more than one vote for a candidate. The maximum number of votes a single candidate can receive is equal to the number of seats being contested in a given election. This year, with three seats being decided, one candidate can receive as many as three votes.

The idea of cumulative voting is to enfranchise voters who contended they were disenfranchised by a system they perceived as being stacked against them - and their political interests.

The old system worked well for AISD. The new system can work just as well.

Here, though, is the catch: For the cumulative voting system to work as its proponents intend, minority voters have to turn out. The 2000 election brought mixed results in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Indeed, Sandoval and Allen won their seats on the strength of voter turnout in mostly Anglo precincts of southwest Amarillo.

Cumulative voting remains a work in progress. Board members approved the settlement in 1999 with some trepidation, fearing that it might prompt single-issue zealots to seek a place at the seat of power. So far, that hasn't happened.

For this new system to fulfill its promise, eligible voters need to register - and then turn out to vote.

If they choose to forgo that fundamental right of citizenship, they in effect relinquish any right to complain later.