On Dec. 18, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against Missouri's Ferguson-Florissant School District, charging the district's electoral system is locking African-Americans out of the political process.
The case, brought on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, is challenging the district’s at-large system used to elect school board members. The at-large system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength, the complaint charges.
African-Americans constitute a minority of the district’s voting age population, and under the at-large system they are systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice. The suit seeks to demonstrate that the at-large arrangement has a discriminatory effect on African-American voters. There are several ways to remedy that effect, including dividing the school district into subdistricts and allowing voters to cast a single vote for an individual candidate who lives near them and better represents the local community.
“The current system locks out African-American voters,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It dilutes the voting power of the African-American community and severely undermines their voice in the political process.”
The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there is just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body.*
This systemic lack of representation is why plaintiff Redditt Hudson got involved in this case. He is a former St. Louis police officer who lives in Florissant with his wife and two daughters, both of whom are students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
“We’ve seen African-Americans excluded from making decisions that affect our children,” said Hudson, who works for the NAACP. “We need to be able to advocate for an education that will put our kids first and not political agendas.”
“It is a core American value that everyone has the right to cast a vote that counts,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “This lawsuit is a positive step toward addressing racial inequities in our education system that will affect not only Ferguson, but all of Missouri.”
*Since the start of this litigation, another African-American school board member was elected. There are currently two African-Americans serving on the board.