|"Cumulative voting system impacts minority precincts"
Amarillo Globe News, Sunday, May 7, 2000
By SONNY BOHANAN , Globe News Special Projects Writer
Amarillo elected its first black school board member Saturday, prompting local minority leaders to declare the new cumulative voting system an unqualified success.
James Allen was the board's first black appointee in June. He received 7,619 votes Saturday, more than any of the seven other candidates, to become the first black trustee elected to the Amarillo Independent School District board.
The new system was designed to help minorities win election to the board. Cumulative voting allowed voters to cast their four votes in any combination: all four votes could be given to a single candidate, or they could be spread among two, three or four candidates.
Voters at the North Heights Center, 607 N. Hughes St. a neighborhood where blacks make up a majority of the population took advantage o f the new system to throw more than 80 percent of their votes to Allen.
Of the 321 ballots cast there, Allen received 744 votes. That means, on average, each voter cast more than two votes for Allen at North Heights. Allen captured 81.4 percent of the AISD votes cast there.
Allen said he isn't sure whether the cumulative voting system accounted for the high number of votes he received.
"I don't know if this is the best system or the worst system, but I'm going to work hard under the system that they give us," Allen said Saturday night. "I think I did a good job of getting that community (voters in North Heights) out to vote, and they felt I had the answers they wanted to hear so they voted for me in those percentages.
"Now I have to work over the next four years to prove to the citizens of Amarillo that I'm a worthy candidate."
Rita Sandoval, the only other minority candidate, also won a seat on the board by finishing fourth with 4,382 votes. She made her strongest showing at the Bowie Middle School voting precinct, a largely Hispanic precinct, where she collected 138 votes out of 125 ballots cast. All told, she had 51.3 percent of the votes there.
"It looks as though it (cumulative voting system) helped us," Sandoval said. "In this case, we have two minorities on the board now, which is something we didn't have in the last election."
The last time a minority won election to the AISD board of trustees was in the late 1970s. That was Jose Rael, who served on the board from 1972 to 1984.
Since then, minorities have been appointed to fill unexpired terms on the board but have lost at election time. The board appointed Dave Contreras to finish a term in the late 1980s, but he lost the 1990 election to Bill Daniel, the current board president.
At least seven minority candidates campaigned unsuccessfully in the last dozen years: Elijah Demerson in 1988; Carl Henderson in 1990; Joe Peterson and Matthew Martinez in 1996; Martinez ran again in 1998, along with Hugo Antonio Medina and Jose (Joe) Ruiz. All three men lost to white opponents.
The League of United Latin American Citizens had been considering a lawsuit against AISD even before the 1998 election, said Nancy Bosquez, a local LULAC leader and a Potter County justice of the peace. But losses by three strong Hispanic candidates proved that minorities had no chance of electing the candidates of their choice under the district's atlarge system, she said.
LULAC and three Hispanic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the AISD in May 1998, trying to force the district to adopt single member districts. The two sides compromised by adopting the cumulative voting system last year.
Bosquez said Saturday that the compromise paid off.
"It's clear that the cumulative voting system does work," Bosquez said.
Alphonso Vaughn, president of the Amarillo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said, "I feel very strongly that the cumulative voting gave an opportunity for minorities to participate and feel that they can be an integral part of the political system.
"Previously, whether real or perceived, African Americans and minorities in general felt out of the process because people tend to vote in blocs. Now with the cumulative voting system, it dilutes the bloc process."