The Los Angeles Times had this article over the weekend about a lawsuit against the Madera Unified School Board that charged that electing school board members citywide violates the Voting Rights Act and leads to underrepresentation of Latino citizens on the board.

A judge ruled that the school district should be divided into smaller areas in which candidates run.

That ruling has pushed a number of California school boards and other elected bodies to do the same. The article mentions that roughly 90 percent of California school boards use at-large voting and that the Voting Rights Act of 2002 “bans at-large voting if there is evidence that it ‘impairs the ability’ of a minority group ‘to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.’”

Here is more from the article:

The idea behind district-based elections, which most large urban school systems use, is that a minority candidate has a better chance of being elected in a specific area than citywide. The argument against them is that they encourage territorial disputes and pork-barrel fights for resources.

San Diego Unified has a hybrid system in which candidates square off within smaller areas during the primaries, then the top two candidates from each district run citywide to represent their area. That system has been praised for reducing the factionalism of a system that gives total control to smaller districts, and school board members frequently mention that they are elected by the whole city when territorial issues arise. But it also reduces competition for seats because fewer people are eligible to vie for a spot in a smaller area within the district.

EMILY ALPERT

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