Ferguson-Florissant school board to appeal judge's order for cumulative voting

The Ferguson-Florissant School District board will challenge a judge’s order that halted board elections on the premise that the board’s election process was stacked against African-Americans.

“In the time since the lawsuit was filed, District voters have elected two additional African-American board members,” said Board President Donna Paulette-Thurman in a statement. “We are confident the present process is lawful and provides an equal opportunity for all candidates.”

The seven-member board currently consists of four white and three black members, a ratio the board says is consistent with the district’s population. The district’s population is almost evenly split between white and black, while about 80 percent of the school district’s 11,200 students are black and 12 percent are white.

In August, U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel barred the board from conducting elections. Late last month, Sippel called for the board to implement cumulative voting, which the board considers to be “inferior” to the current electoral process. Cumulative voting allows a voter to cast as many votes as there are candidates and distribute those votes among candidates as they choose.

The school district’s attorney is expected to file the challenge to Sippel with the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals this week.

“The Court of Appeals will recognize that Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proof in the liability phase of this case,” said Ferguson-Florissant’s attorney Cindy Ormsby in a statement. “Plaintiffs’ explanation that two of the three African-American board members were elected due to ‘special circumstances’ rather than their qualifications and hard work is, frankly, insulting.”

The ACLU, which had filed the lawsuit against the board along with the NAACP, said Monday that it was “extremely dismayed” at the board’s decision.

“The time and resources the school board continues to devote to defending its racially discriminatory election system, instead of educating its children, is shameful,” said Julie Ebenstein, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project in a statement.

Filing for board candidates opens Tuesday for the April 4 election.