|Voting system lauded: Minority candidates win AISD precincts
Amarillo Globe News, May 8, 2000
By SONNY BOHANAN Globe-News Special Projects Writer
James Allen, Amarillo's first black school board member, pulled off Saturday's election victory by winning votes across a large cross section of the city's population.
Of the 22 voting precincts in the Amarillo Independent School District, Allen finished first or second in all but one. He also won early voting, and he finished with more votes than any of the other seven candidates for the AISD board of trustees.
Rita Sandoval finished fourth to win her seat on the board, the first Hispanic woman ever to do so.
Of the four at large seats up for election, minority candidates won two of them. The result is significant because it was the first test of AISD's new cumulative voting system, designed to help minorities win election to the school 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 split among two, three or four candidates.
While Allen stopped short of crediting the school district's new voting system for his victory, Alphonso Vaughn, president of the Amarillo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said it is clear that minority voters used the system.
"I think you have to say cumulative voting was a plus," Vaughn said. "It's the first time in the history of this area that two minorities were elected to the school board. That has never happened before, and I think cumulative voting had an effect on that."
The advantages of the new system were most apparent at the North Heights Center, 607 N. Hughes St. The center was the voting place for three north Amarillo voting precincts - 401, 403 and 404 - where blacks make up 62.7 percent, 87.5 percent and 10.2 percent of the precinct populations respectively, according to city of Amarillo estimates.
Allen captured 81.4 percent of all the North Heights votes cast in the AISD trustee election, according to election returns. Of 321 ballots cast there, Allen received 744 votes, an indication that most voters cast more than one vote for Allen.
Sandoval made a similar showing at the Bowie Middle School voting precinct, where Hispanics make up 65.6 percent of the population, according to city estimates. Sandoval captured 51.3 percent of all the AISD votes cast at Bowie. Of 125 ballots cast there, she finished with 138 votes.
Sandoval also won the most votes at Humphrey's Highland Elementary School.
Bowie and North Heights are the two voting places with the highest minority population. And they were the only two voting places where a candidate received more votes than the number of ballots cast, an indication that voters gave multiple votes to a single candidate.
But support for Allen and Sandoval wasn't limited to the minority community. Allen won 11 of the city's 22 voting precincts outright, and he finished second in 10 others. He was third in one other.
Sandoval won two precincts and finished second in seven.
"It just goes to show that in Amarillo the people look at the best person for the job, not their color," Allen said.
Nancy Bosquez, a Potter County justice of the peace and a local leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the cumulativevoting system worked better than she had hoped.
"We were hoping one of the minority candidates would be elected," said Bosquez, the first Hispanic woman to win a county-level election in Amarillo. "The fact that we got two minorities on the board is awesome. History was made in Amarillo."
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.
At least eight minority candidates have campaigned unsuccessfully in the last dozen years: Elijah Demerson in 1988; Carl Henderson and Dave Contreras in 1990; and 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.
LULAC and three Hispanic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the AISD after the May 1998 school board election, trying to force the district to adopt single-member districts. The two sides compromised by adopting the cumulative voting system last year.
Allen said cumulative voting helped increase voter turnout because of the effort to educate voters about the new system.
"It created a mind-set in Amarillo that we had to do a lot more education and be more pro-active than we usually are on an election," Allen said.
Of the 96,716 registered voters in AISD, 12,280 (or 12.7 percent) cast ballots in this election. By comparison, only 3.4 percent of the registered voters turned out for the May 1998 election.
"The turnout was higher than the last several school board elections," Vaughn said. "We're very excited, very pleased, and basking in the historical moment of this. It gave minorities the prospect that we can make a difference; our vote can make a difference and we can be an integral part of the process.
"This election will be looked at very acutely around the state and the nation to see how cumulative voting worked."
School board president Bill Daniel, who voted to settle the lawsuit against the school district by adopting cumulative voting, said the election showed the board made the right decision.
"I think it justifies us doing what we did," Daniel said. "It's a good voting system and a good conclusion to the lawsuit we were involved in. It's working the way it was intended to work."