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Pre-election coverage of Amarillo Independent School District 2002 Elections

2004

Amarillo Globe-News
AISD election again eyes cumulative voting outcome. 
By Beth Wilson.
April 28, 2002

Three votes for each voter. Cumulative voting will make its second round Saturday in Amarillo Independent School District's school board elections.

AISD switched to cumulative voting in 1999 and elected its 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 group requested the district move from at-large positions to single-member districts, claiming the procedure at that time diluted the powers of minority voting.

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

In cumulative voting, a voter has a number of votes equal to the number of positions available. In Saturday's election, three board positions are up for grabs, and each voter will have three votes.

Five people are running for three board positions: Incumbents Julie Attebury and Jack Thompson and newcomers Janie Rivas, Jim Austin and LaRue M. Hite.

David Rausch, a political science professor at West Texas A&M University, studied the 2000 elections and will watch the second round of cumulative voting for more research. The major benefit of cumulative voting is voters can show strong support for one candidate, Rausch said.

"We're still at-large, but now we vote for our favorites, all my votes to one person," Rausch said.

But in studying the results of 2000, Rausch noted another factor in AISD board elections - a group of business leaders called BIOS, Business in Our Schools.

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

"I hope that's at least in part because people have confidence in our recommendation," he said. "There's a pretty good likelihood that the people serving now are doing so because they were endorsed by the BIOS and encouraged to run by the BIOS."

The group's interest is in getting qualified people on the board, Curphey said. The group provides support, financial and otherwise, to people they think have a quality the board needs. Membership in BIOS is ever-changing. BIOS collects no dues, elects no officers and selects its choices for candidates based on investigation, not necessarily individual interviews, Curphey said.

The two candidates with BIOS backing in this election are Attebury and Austin. Curphey said the group's support of Attebury is a continuation of support given when she ran in 1998. Austin has the fiscal knowledge needed to make up for Sam Lovelady's departure, he said. Lovelady, an accountant, isn't running for re-election.

"We're not against anybody," Curphey said."We're just for people we've identified as having something special to offer that relates to a special need."

BIOS seeks no publicity for its endorsements. Curphey said group members receive letters explaining reasons for their endorsements and requesting monetary support.

But the influence spreads from there.

James Allen, endorsed by BIOS in 2000 for the AISD board, said that endorsement paired with his broad-based message helped him win.

"Any endorsement I received had an impact," Allen said. "Members of the BIOS group, their co-workers, their circle of friends are probably people that go out and vote. My appeal was broad-based, not business against homemaker, not black or white, not northwest or southwest Amarillo. I said if elected, I would represent all of Amarillo's school district."

Rita Sandoval, also endorsed by BIOS in 2000, said the influence of that endorsement might not have spread past the business circle, but the larger community was ready to put minorities on the board.

"People were looking at the possibility that it was OK to have minority groups on the board and that it was the right thing to do," she said.

Alphonso Vaughn, president of the local NAACP branch, said the publicity from the lawsuit brought the issue of minority representation to the forefront.

More people, including BIOS, were considering the benefits of different cultural perspectives working together, he said.

"It (BIOS' endorsement of Sandoval and Allen) probably had some effect because they too wanted to have more inclusion from all areas of the city," Vaughn said. "It was a neat time, a very reflective time, for them to look at all the candidates and see what they can bring to the table."

David Almager, a local political consultant who was involved in bringing cumulative voting to AISD, said any endorsement helps a candidate, but people - minorities and majorities - using more than one vote for minority candidates made a difference in 2000.

Cumulative voting is still a new process for Amarillo. Saturday's election are sure to bring more discussion about the process, its intended outcome and its future.

"What I'm feeling, what the community is feeling, is this is a good opportunity to see if it can work," Almager said. "We'll see after this election if this tool will be used to elect more minorities to this position."

Amarillo Globe-News
Cumulative vote set for 2nd act; Turnout is key to making it work
April 7, 2002

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.

 


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