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San Antonio Express-News

Some vote 3 times, legally
By Roger Croteau
April 12, 2002

The last time he was up for re-election, school board President Roger Bading voted for himself. Twice. Fellow school board member Gail Randle cast two votes for herself, too.

Some of the board members voted for themselves three times.

But that's no problem in the Navarro School District, which has an unusual "cumulative voting" system of electing school board members.

"When it was first thrown out as an option, we had never heard of it," Bading said. "My first reaction was 'That's not how you vote. It's supposed to be one person, one vote.'"

But in the Navarro district, each voter gets to cast as many votes as there are open positions on the school board.

If three of the at-large seats are up for election, each voter casts three votes, and can cast all three for a single candidate, or two for one candidate and one for another, or cast one vote each for three candidates.

So during the campaign for the May 4 school board election to fill two vacant seats in the small school district north of Seguin, the five candidates are not asking residents for a vote, but for two votes.

"Cumulative voting allows minority groups to elect their preferred candidate in an at-large election system," said Nina Perales, staff attorney for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "It does work. If voters understand the system, it works very well."

About 40 of the more than 2,000 school districts and cities in Texas have cumulative voting systems, including the cities of Boerne and Poth.

Most went to the system as a result of court rulings in Voting Rights Act challenges to at-large election systems, which can dilute minority voting strength and make it difficult to elect minority candidates.

"The more common solution is to go to single-member districts," said Ann McGeehan, director of elections at the Texas secretary of state's office. "But in those areas where minority populations are spread out, single member districts would not really help get a minority elected."

The League of United Latin American Citizens sued the Navarro School District in 1997, alleging the at-large voting system discriminated against minorities.

The district is about 40 percent Hispanic, but had not elected a Hispanic school board member in recent memory.

"We went to this system in a court settlement," Bading said. "We did not want to go to single-member districts."

Randle said she prefers the cumulative voting system to single-member districts because Navarro often has very low voter turnout in school elections, and, with single-member districts, it would be possible at times to get elected with as few as 10 votes.

"I also see school districts around us suffer from single-member districts," she said. "When you are elected by a district, you are only concerned about your own district, and the board is divided at the outset of any issue. Everybody on the board needs to represent everyone in the community."

One Hispanic, Dennis Rincon, was elected since Navarro adopted cumulative voting in 1997, but he resigned from the board before completing his first term.

The system was more successful in the Amarillo School District, the largest entity in the United States with a cumulative voting system, Perales said.

"As a result, the school board now has one Latina and one African American, and they were able to stay with an at-large system," she said.

While cumulative voting has not led to a surge in minority candidates running for office or getting elected in the Navarro district, school officials still consider it as a success.

"I think it has been a tremendous compromise," Randle said.

Bading said "It works well, but I'm sure there are still some voters out there that don't understand it."

Cumulative Voting Graphic

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