Oh where to begin with this one.

A federal judge has barred Ferguson Florissant School District from holding school board elections because he feels that there is a “subtle ‘complex interaction’ of political processes that deter black voters from electing the candidates of their choice,” according to the Post Dispatch. In short, the complaint filed by the ACLU/NAACP says that because there are only 2/7 FFSD school board members who are African American (I use the term used in the official court document here) and the demographics of the district are 80% African American, there must be some systemic bias which is barring African Americans from being elected to the school board, i.e. election results should automatically mirror the demographic make up of the community.

U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel, wrote on page 117 of the opinion that “it is my finding that the cumulative effects of historical discrimination, current political practices, and the socioeconomic conditions present in the District impact the ability of African-Americans in (the school system) to participate equally in Board elections.” He concludes that, due to all kinds of victim excuses, blacks in that community are incapable of showing up to the voting booth and casting their vote. How is the black community not offended by this ruling?

The details of the case show that when a highly qualified black candidate ran, (e.g. Dr. Graves 2015) and used sound campaign practices like promoting bullet voting*, not only did she win by a landslide, but she also received votes from white residents.

*Bullet voting, for those who don’t know is a mathematically practical method to get your candidate elected in elections where the top vote getters win the open seats. If you really want candidate A to win, then don’t give any of your votes to any of the other candidates. Only vote for candidate A, even if you are allowed to cast 2-3 votes. This maximizes the number of votes your candidate gets in comparison to the others. The unions have known about this tactic for years.

The testimony in the case revolved around statistical probability since, with anonymous voting, there is no direct evidence of who voted for who. Many conclusions were drawn that could not be supported by direct empirical evidence. For instance, the opinion states, “when discussing the vote total for 2013 candidate Charles Henson in overwhelmingly African American precincts, Dr. Rodden mischaracterized this as “only” 39%, where—because of the at-large system and the relative rarity of bullet voting—39% almost certainly represents support from a large majority of voters.” The vote total is reflective only of the number of people who bothered to turn out to vote, not the number of people registered to vote. It represents the will of that ~15% of the total potential voters. It may represent the largest percentage of votes a single candidate in a specific district received when looking at the totals of all 4 candidates, but it may not represent the largest percentage of votes that candidate received over all. More people overall may have preferred some other candidate. The public should be well aware of this phenomenon because of Trump’s ultimate success in the Republican presidential primaries. He never had more than 43% of the total Republican voting public in favor of him.

The judge’s opinion was that because individual districts with a certain demographic voted most consistently for a particular candidate, that candidate should win, even though the district wide vote did not break down the same way. The lesson the country is learning at this point is, at the end of the day its all about who has the numbers on their side. This is patently obvious from the effort by both parties to “get out the vote.”

It is no secret that there is systemic bias in favor of incumbent school board candidates, one which thwarts conservative white voters in the suburbs from getting their challenge candidates onto school boards. Perhaps a group of conservative voters should file their own suit against other school districts, which use the power of the teachers unions to get or keep union friendly candidates onto school boards, citing this case as precedent for the disenfranchisement of minority voting blocks.  It should be noted that the two candidates who won this recent FFSD election (both female) were endorsed by the St. Louis Labor Council. Anyone want to contend the unions don’t heavily influence such campaigns? Why weren’t the unions named as defendants in this case?

What is most striking about this case is how different the outcome might be if one substituted the adjective “Democrat/Republican” or “Conservative/Progressive” or “Male/Female” for African American. The case was not about the poor or disparate performance of these candidates while in office, it was merely about the label outcome of the elections.  The ACLU did not contend that African American board members would have done a better job of leading the district or that white board members systematically denied black students their rights or purposely mismanaged the district. The case was about “Did enough people of a certain label win?”

Ferguson and Florissant are part of North St Louis County which has experienced an appreciable amount of  “white flight” in the last few decades. This has created the segregation that NAACP and the ACLU are lamenting. Ferguson is majority black. Florissant is majority white. However, according to the plaintiffs, the white residents who were committed to staying in their homes and contributing to the community, paying taxes, serving on the school board and taking all the community frustration over their schools, should be barred from such participation. They should just pay their taxes and stay out of it.

At the end of the day the truth about municipal elections must be faced. Most never see more than 15% of the eligible voters turn out to choose who has control over very immediate areas of impact in our day to day lives. Whose fault is that apathy? The voters. Does government, or a single judge, have the authority or even the right to force voters to come to the polls? I certainly hope not. The recent 2015 vote shows that voter apathy or lack of direction can be overcome when there is enough will. The judge’s conclusion, that the state should re-examine its at large voting election process, is simply judicial activism to create a fictitious “just” vote outcome based on someone’s opinion, not the will of the people, and should be considered as such by the Missouri legislature.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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