August 27, 2009 - Fresno Unified discusses changing voting ways
Paper: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Title: Fresno Unified discusses changing voting ways
Date: August 27, 2009
Author: Tracy Correa The Fresno Bee
Fresno Unified School District trustees Wednesday discussed the state's Voting Rights Act and whether the district should change how school board members are elected in order to avoid lawsuits, such as the one filed against Madera Unified last year.
Mary Beth de Goede, the district's legal counsel, presented a number of alternatives, including by-district elections and a study on past voting practices. The discussion also looked at whether the district should wait until the 2010 census, which could require that trustee-area boundaries be drawn again. The board took no action.
The district elects trustees at-large but divides the district into trustee areas, requiring trustees to live in areas they represent, described by de Goede as a "hybrid system." For example, a voter in the Bullard High area can vote for a trustee who will serve the Roosevelt High neighborhood.
Many districts are changing the way they are electing candidates to comply with the California Voting Rights Act of 2002. It requires public agencies to allow elections by districts if it's proven that at-large elections -- in which all voters can vote for any candidate -- lessen the chances for a minority candidate to win.
For decades, Hispanic activists have pushed for the change, saying candidates favored by minorities lose elections to white candidates who have the money to finance large, citywide campaigns.
"It's difficult to assess whether voting has been polarized," de Goede said. She said a study of past voting patterns and demographics would have to go back years at a cost "in the six figures."
"At the very least, a study should be done," said trustee Larry Moore.
Trustee Janet Ryan noted that there is not one "full-blooded" Hispanic on the board in a community with a large Hispanic population. Trustee Valerie Davis is part-Hispanic.
"I don't see if we do a study, that it's going to find anything other than we have to change. ... I don't want to spend millions of dollars defending ourselves," Ryan said.
The San Francisco-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights has been filing lawsuits challenging at-large elections, including against Madera Unified, and has pushed for by-area or district elections. Madera Unified settled the lawsuit and changed its election process this year. Hanford Joint Union High School District also changed to voting by district after it was sued in 2004.
Section: LOCAL NEWS
Record Number: FRS_0416225701
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