How well is AISD's
cumulative-voting system working?
District is in vanguard of reform
By William H. Seewald
July 5, 2002
The May election for Amarillo Independent School
District trustees saw proportional voting continue to diversify the
pool of electable community members as well as reaffirm support for
trustees with long-term service their community apparently values.
When the proportional voting system was inaugurated in 2000, we
became the largest political jurisdiction in the country using this
The reforms certainly seem to be succeeding at
The old "winner-take-all," at-large rules produced no
successful nonwhite candidate for almost two decades, even though
more than 40 percent of the student-age population and more than 20
percent of the voting-age population in Amarillo is nonwhite.
the six elections before the 2000 change, eight times minority
candidates unsuccessfully sought a place on the board. Elijah
Demerson, Carl Henderson, Dave Contreras, Joe Peterson, Matthew
Martinez, Hugo Antonio Medina, and Jose (Joe) Ruiz all lost to white
opponents at least once.
As the re-election of long-term trustee
Jack Thompson demonstrates, it isn't just about giving minorities a
shot at participation either. He drew the most votes, clearly
benefiting from service appreciated by his community and perhaps
rewarded by a constituency of educators who value a voice on the
board as well.
Janie Rivas' election, which adds another woman to
the board, also represents one of the common effects of cumulative
voting. It generally tends to promote more women into office.
election also provided contrast to the Amarillo College Board of
Regents election, in which the at-large system produced only Anglo
victors and made Antonio Renteria the single unsuccessful candidate.
The surge in turnout in the 2000 board elections reverted to the
traditionally lighter numbers this year. But those who do vote are
still entitled to the better cut of the deck, and our deeply
alienated electorate isn't going to be lured back to the polls in
one electoral cycle.
Even though the 1998 LULAC lawsuit sought
single-member districts, there might be more to say for the
proportional system. It's capable of uniting like-minded members of
the electorate, irrespective of where they live.
Not all of the
arguments made by those opposed to single-member districts are
simply justification for the status quo either.
Districts that are
gerrymandered to produce a safe seat for a particular group always
tend to leave members of the same constituency marooned in other
districts with no hope of electing anyone. Where we are a less
segregated society, that is a real issue that proportional voting
successfully addresses without having to go through all the
machinations of redistricting.
The United States is among a
diminishing number of democratic nations that don't employ some kind
of proportional (or modified proportional) voting to elect one house
of their legislatures.
If the rest of the country were willing to
embark on the kinds of progressive reforms being tried right here in
Amarillo, we could rid ourselves of some of the endless
redistricting dramas while assuring that the playing field can be
leveled for everyone.
William H. Seewald can be
contacted in care of the Amarillo Globe-News, P.O. Box 2091,
Amarillo TX 79166, or [email protected] Point-Counterpoint
appears every other Friday.