Elections on hold in Ferguson-Florissant School District, at issue is African-American representation

FLORISSANT, MO (KPLR) - Elections are on hold in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.  That’s because of a federal judge’s ruling.  He determined the district’s election process violates the Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Missouri on behalf of the N.A.A.C.P. and 3 district residents.   Tony Rothert is legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.  He said the judge considered a host of factors including historical discrimination against African-Americans.

“No one is claiming that the district is currently engaging in any intentional racial discrimination,” said Rothert.   “In fact they are carrying out their election as the state statute requires them to.”

The Ferguson-Florissant School District currently holds at-large elections.  Voters throughout the entire district vote for each school board member.  Rothert said the district population contains more white residents than black residents.  He said a better form of representation would be to divide the district into different sections.  Candidates would run in each section, not the entire district.

“If you had district elections you would have better representation from across the district, and then the schools maybe would get more equal attention within the district,” said Rothert.

He said other districts hold at-large elections, but the Ferguson-Florissant District is unique because of the historical racial issues in the north county region.

“This kind of institutionalism racism that still lingers from a generation ago affects elections today and makes it harder for African-Americans today to elect the candidates of their choice,” said Rothert.

The district’s attorney released the following statement:

The District continues to believe that the current at-large electoral system is best for African-American representation.  In fact, the Court found that whites in the District are a plurality of the voting age population. Therefore, the current makeup of the board, 4 whites and 3 African-Americans, would reflect a proportional representation.  African-Americans have won seats on the District’s Board in each election for the past three years.  The District continues to believe that this at-large system does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The District is obviously very disappointed with the Court’s ruling today.  As you know, the NAACP sued the District for holding its elections in a manner that is required by Missouri law.  The District could not change its electoral system voluntarily and had no choice but to defend this lawsuit.

The District is currently reviewing all of its options, including an appeal of this decision.

Both sides have been summoned to appear in court Friday.  Rothert said he’s hopeful the district will come with a plan to satisfy the judge’s concerns.