Cumulative voting is here to stay

I had thought initially about using this particular blog post to argue for a drastic change in the Amarillo City Council voting plan … but I won’t argue for it today, although I intend to mention it.

Instead, I’ll discuss briefly a voting plan that will elect members of the Amarillo College Board of Regents and the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

It’s called “cumulative voting,” and it has worked well for both governing bodies.

Cumulative voting was enacted some years ago by AISD to settle a lawsuit brought by the League of United Latin American Citizens, which argued that the AISD at-large voting plan made it too difficult for Latinos to get elected to the board. AISD settled with LULAC and came up with this cumulative plan.

It’s an interesting concept.

If a governing board has, say, three seats up for election, voters can opt to bunch up their votes in any combination they choose. They can cast all  three votes for one candidate; they can parcel them out, casting two ballots for one candidate and one for another; or they can cast one vote apiece for each candidate. The number of votes they cast match the number of seats up for election.

Cumulative voting has worked well for AISD and for AC. It has produced a level of diversity among the respective governing boards. It enables voters in a particular neighborhood to rally around one of their own by allowing for one candidate to collect a greater portion of votes.

Amarillo City Council continues to have its at-large voting plan. The council elects candidates to fill individual places. Voters cast ballots for the candidate of their choice for each place. All council members represent the same citywide constituency, the same as the mayor. The city’s at-large plan has the effect of diminishing the power of the mayor, who is the presiding officer of the City Council in name only.

Should the city change its voting plan? I’ve argued already on this blog that my longtime opposition to any change has softened. I wouldn’t object to a change, such as expanding the council from five to seven seats and then electing two council members — along with the mayor — at-large, while electing four others from wards/precincts.

The city’s plan will likely remain intact for the foreseeable future — if not even longer than that.

Amarillo College and Amarillo ISD, though, are continuing on their own paths to electoral reform that I find quite appealing.

They would do well, though, to explain it clearly and completely to their constituents how it works.

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