A federal judge on Monday suspended Ferguson, Missouri, school board elections because the process discriminates against African-American voters, reports The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
About 80 percent of the 11,200 students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District are African-American, yet three of the seven school board members are Black, according to the newspaper.
U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel said the discrimination is unintentional.
“Rather, it is my finding that the cumulative effects of historical discrimination, current political practices, and the socioeconomic conditions present in the district impact the ability of African-Americans in (the school system) to participate equally in Board elections,” Sippel’s ruling stated.
The school district applies the at-large voting system in a way that violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he wrote, directing officials to halt school board elections until they make changes to the voting system.
The Missouri chapters of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in 2014. They argued that the at-large system, in which voters are lumped into two or three large districts, dilutes the Black vote.
An at-large system sometimes weakens Black vote power because African-American populations are often geographically concentrated into a few large communities.
Sippel ordered the two sides to begin holding meetings to discuss ways to adjust the process.
The two sides are currently at loggerheads. Cindy Ormsby, the lawyer who represented the school district, told the Post-Dispatch that the at-large system “works best for African-American representation.”
Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards Association, added that it’s the “preferable system” statewide. Indeed, Kansas City is the only school district in the state that does not utilize an at-large system.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post-Dispatch| PHOTO CREDIT: Getty