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At Large Voting Frequently Asked Questions

From the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc


When the Detroit Public Schools District was dissolved in 2016, the same year the Detroit City Council went to District voting from At Large, per the voters of the City of Detroit, the newly created school district went to At Large Voting.

The boundaries of the school district are the same as they were before and the same as the Detroit City Council boundaries. Council went from 9 at large members to 7 district and 2 at large.

DPS went from 11 - 7 district and 4 at large members. Nothing in our boundaries had changed and voters were not advised that the voting process had changed.

I had been twice elected to my seat on DPS Board as a district representative. I won my seat with under 5,000 votes in a mostly Latino district.

But in 2016, I ran for a seat on the newly created DPSCD board and lost. I had just under 15,000 votes. No Latino has ever won city wide in the city of Detroit.

The first ever Latina was elected to the Detroit City Council in 2016, once district voting had become a reality for the city. But the opposite reality came to DPS.

I filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the Department of Justice and the Michigan ACLU. Thus far, I have heard nothing.

At the time of this change, I was told that this was a federal issue. But the State of Michigan legislated the new district into existence, complete with its new voting arrangement: At Large.

Here is what the LDF says about At Large Voting:

What is at large voting?

Under at large voting, all voters cast their ballots for all candidates in the jurisdiction, In Beaufort city council elections, for example, all voters cast their ballots for five positions, with the top five candidates who receive the most votes citywide winning seats on the city council.

Why is at large voting discriminatory?

At-large methods of election are often discriminatory because they, in combination with racially polarized voting, prevent voters of color from electing their candidates of choice where they are not the majority of the jurisdiction., Under this system, the votes of voters of color often are drowned out or submerged by the votes of a majority of white voters who often do not support the candidates preferred by Black voters.

How does at large voting affect communities of color?

Fewer and fewer districts still practice at large voting. That is because courts and other decision makers have long recognized that discriminatory methods of election, like at large voting, enhance the discrimination that communities of color experience because of socioeconomic and other disparities in life opportunities between Black and white communities. ( In the case of Detroit, it's immigration status, language that set the Latino community apart).

How can districts switch from at large to district based voting?

Elected officials can call for a referendum on the question of moving from at large to district voting, and voters can approve a change to the method of election through a referendum. South Carolina law empowers local city councils to take a simple majority vote to change the method of election through a referendum. Alternatively, communities can petition a city council to put the question of change to the method of election to the voters. ( This is not true for Detroit because the city is separate from the school district). Without action by local municipalities, politicians who choose to maintain at large voting can face time consuming and costly litigation.

Are At Large systems rare, or widely used?

Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, numerous at large systems have been struck down under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Although at large voting is becoming rarer and rarer, in part due to the advocacy of the LDF, and other civil rights organizations, such discriminatory election systems remain in some places in our democracy, such as in Beaufort City.

The Voting Rights Act forbids the use of any electoral scheme, such as the at large method of election, that submerges the votes of people of color in elections that a white majority of voters control. Widely considered the crown jewel of American democracy, the Voting Rights Act is the most effective tool for protecting voters against methods of election- like at large voting- that weaken the voting strength of communities of color.

What are some notable cases that struck down at large voting?

In a case that LDF successfully litigated, Dillard v Crenshaw County, Alabama, a federal district court found that hundreds of Alabama districts intentionally employed at large electoral methods to discriminate against Black voters. Because of that litigation, 176 jurisdictions settled and adopted some form of district voting. Following Dillard, in which 183 jurisdictions throughout Alabama ultimately abandoned their discriminatory at large method of elections, few jurisdictions in Alabama still use this potentially dilutive voting scheme.

More recently, in Georgia State Conference of NAACP is Fayette County Board of Commissioners, LDF successfully challenged the at large electoral methods to the county board of commissioners and board of education in Fayette County, Georgia.

Recently in Michigan, the Department of Justice and the city of Eastpointe, Michigan settled an at large voting discrimination case. Now Eastpointe- a fraction of the size of Detroit has district voting.

This is a major point of my platform for running for school board. In the future, the sons and daughters of the recently arrived immigrants from Mexico and Central America will seek a voice in electoral politics. I cannot let the disenfranchisement of our community go. We have to fight this.

Note: In the case of Detroit, the majority of the city is Black and the Latino community is in the minority. Note: The DPSCD is overwhelmingly Black and Latino, despite having a white mayor and white school superintendent. The

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