A federal court’s prohibited the Ferguson-Florissant school district from conducting school board elections.
U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel ruled the current election arrangement violates the Voting Rights Act because it’s biased against African American voters. The judge said racial discrimination has plagued the region and the district for a long time, affecting African American’s ability to participate in the political process.
Tony Rothert with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, which brought the court suit, says the district’s “at-large” elections, along with the staggering of the board members’ individual races, had an adverse effect on the minority group. “These things combined, in this school district anyhow, with some racially polarized voting to create a circumstance in which the votes of African American voters were diluted” said Rothert. “It made it difficult for African American voters to elect candidates that would be responsive to the needs of their community.”
Rothert contends the district’s “at-large” contests create a specific problem in Ferguson-Florissant. “What’s unique to this district is that there’s strong racially polarized voting. White voters in the district do not vote for African American candidates as a general matter.”
In addition, he says the “at-large” elections present a problem when African Americans make up 80 percent of the student population, but only 47 percent of voters. “(It) allows white voters to shut out, or give less voice to candidates that support the African American community.”
Rothert claims the problem is compounded by the district’s history of racial discrimination, as well as other elements such as felony disenfranchisement and social factors which make it less likely for African-Americans to vote in the Ferguson-Florissant district.
The judge said he hoped the ACLU and the school board would work together to find a new method of electing board members. Rothert says if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, they’ll each return to court to present their own remedies for fixing the problem. The school board could also appeal the judge’s decision.
Rothert says the Ferguson-Florissant district was created by a court order after some districts were created to intentionally exclude African Americans in the 1950’s and 60’s.
A call to the district following Monday’s ruling was not answered.