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Amarillo News-Globe

Cumulative vote results
By Beth Wilson
May 12, 2002

A voting system intended to help minorities get elected primarily benefited an incumbent white man and a Hispanic woman in the recent Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election.

Incumbent Jack Thompson and newcomers Janie Rivas and Jim Austin were elected to the seven-member board in the second election to use a cumulative voting system.

In the May 4 election, each voter had three votes to cast in any combination.

Rivas, 46, a community volunteer, and Thompson, 69, received more votes than the number of ballots cast in several precincts. This indicates voters used more than one of their three votes for these candidates.

Thompson received 2,978 votes; Rivas had 2,458 votes and Austin got 2,335. The other candidates were incumbent Julie Attebury, with 1,975 votes, and LaRue Hite, with 659 votes.

AISD switched to cumulative voting in 1999, and voters elected their first black and Hispanic trustees in May 2000, the first election to use the new process.

Cumulative voting is the compromise settled on in 1999 after the League of United Latin American Citizens, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three individuals filed a lawsuit against AISD. After the May 1998 school board elections, the groups requested the district move from at-large positions to single-member districts, claiming the at-large method diluted the strength of minority voters.

At least eight minority candidates had been unsuccessful in AISD election attempts in the 12 years prior to 2000.

David Rausch, a political science professor at West Texas A&M University, said Thompson, a community volunteer, won the election because of cumulative voting.

"He got his three-vote message out," he said.

Several of Thompson's newspaper ads said, "He would appreciate 1, 2 or 3 of your votes." Rausch said this type of education on the system clearly helped Thompson get a majority of votes.

Cumulative voting is in use in about 35 municipalities in Texas, and it usually helps put minorities on boards, Rausch said. The May 4 election had low turnout, 3.6 percent of registered voters, and little information spread about cumulative voting.

"In a low information election, any information wins," Rausch said. "Thompson put his information out there."

Another possibility, Rausch said, is Thompson was seen as an underdog candidate because he wasn't endorsed by the Globe-News or Business In Our Schools, a group of businessmen who've endorsed candidates since the 1980s.

Rausch said he'll review the ballots and study how votes were split and if those voting for Rivas also voted for Antonio "Tony" Renteria for Amarillo College's board of regents. He's planning an exit poll for the 2004 election.

David Almager, a local political consultant who was involved in bringing cumulative voting to AISD, said Rivas' election to the board is a significant step in the cumulative voting process.

"It makes her the third minority elected to the board under the cumulative voting system," he said. "Who would have thought four years ago we would be electing a third minority to the board given our history?"

The test of cumulative voting will be future elections, Almager said.

"The true test will be its ability for minorities to consistently elect and re-elect minorities over a longer period of time," he said. "Will voters continue to use this? Will the community be comfortable with the system?"

In Rausch's study of AISD's 2000 election, he indicated endorsements by a group of business leaders might have made more of an impact than cumulative voting.

BIOS has endorsed candidates since 1980, and never picked a loser until May 4, said Don Curphey, one of its earliest members.

BIOS endorsed Attebury and Austin.

Curphey said they took for granted the community's tendency to re-elect incumbents and didn't do a good job communicating her contributions to the board since 1998.

"The BIOS garnered the support it was expecting for the people we identified as having a vested interest in our schools, the business community," Curphey said. "They stood up to the bar and made contributions, and we got a good man on the board in Jim Austin. It was not a failure. The people who were elected are good people. I'm disappointed about Julie but otherwise pleased with the outcome."

Curphey said Rivas' determination and intense campaigning was an important factor in the May 4 election.

Alphonso Vaughn, president of the local NAACP branch, said Thompson's high numbers weren't surprising, because of his many years of equal service to all schools.

Vaughn said he expects more minorities to try for political office because the cumulative system has leveled the field.

"It awakens individuals," he said. "Now we have an opportunity to get our point across. We have now an opportunity to seriously be looked at and be elected."

Effects of cumulative voting

Precincts with more votes for a candidate than ballots cast:

School - Voters - Votes for candidate

Rogers Elem. - 26 - 48 for Rivas

Bowie Middle - 59 - 131 for Rivas

Eastridge Elem. - 16 - 18 for Rivas

North Heights - 70 - 87 for Rivas

Whittier Elem. - 35 - 42 for Rivas

Lawndale Elem. - 139 - 234 for Rivas

Lamar Elem. - 59 - 68 for Thompson

South Georgia Elem. - 109 - 135 for Thompson

Western Plateau Elem. - 174 - 198 for Thompson

Puckett Elem. - 361 - 429 for Thompson

Windsor Elem. - 383 - 511 for Thompson

St. Laurence Cathedral - 25 - 29 for Rivas

Humphrey's Highland Elem. - 21 - 49 for Rivas

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