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April’s Ferguson-Florissant School Board Election To Be The First Using Cumulative Voting

According to Washington University's Center for Social Development's latest study, predominantly black residents and low-income communities in the region face barriers in casting their ballots.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
The Ferguson-Florissant school board will be elected using cumulative voting for the first time in April.

Voters in the Ferguson-Florissant School District will select their school board members much differently on April 2.

The new method, called cumulative voting, settles a Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed in 2014 by the ACLU of Missouri and the NAACP. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case in January.

As in the past, an unlimited number of candidates can run for open seats — there are three candidates for two open posts in April — and the top vote-getters will be elected. But unlike previous elections, voters can cast up to two votes for one candidate under the new cumulative system.

Credit St. Louis County Board of Elections
This screenshot of a sample ballot from the Ferguson-Florissant School District shows the instructions for cumulative voting.

Black residents make up 80 percent of the students in the Ferguson-Florissant schools but just half of the district’s voting population. That meant white residents voting as a bloc for their preferred candidates could keep candidates preferred by black residents off the board, said Tony Rothert, the ACLU of Missouri’s legal director.

“And then in turn, not surprisingly, those people who were elected under that system didn’t feel the need to listen as carefully to the needs of the black community,” he said.

In voting-rights cases involving school districts, judges will often divide the territory into smaller subdistricts. But in the Ferguson-Florissant case, Rothert said, the judge didn’t see the need for such a change. Instead, he implemented cumulative voting.

“It really empowers the black community to use its political powers to counteract things like the white bloc voting that has diluted its votes in the past,” Rothert said. 

Voters can learn more about cumulative voting, and meet the three candidates for school board, at a forum on Tuesday hosted by the ACLU. It starts at 6 p.m., at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.