A recent article in The Sacramento Bee quoted Rose Institute Fellow Doug Johnson. The article was published on January 27 and it was titled “California school districts change board elections to avoid lawsuits.” The article describes how some school districts have switched from district wide at-large elections to a system in which each board member represents the specific area he or she lives in.
Johnson notes that “the vast majority of districts in California still elect at-large representatives. The voting method is a product of turn-of-the-century reform sought to avoid the corruption of the ward system that once dominated Chicago and East Coast cities.” He says, it “has been essentially the rule of cities and school districts for 100 years now.”
Johnson says, “The move to area voting has come about only in the past five or six years, since appellate courts rejected challenges to the Voting Rights Act…It’s been a useful tool in some areas to empower minority voters.”
Johnson notes that in Madera such reform resulted in a rise in Latino representation on the school board. In Modesto, however, the change was not as effective. He says, “It was a lot of money over a battle that did not get a new voice on the council.”