I’ve noted several stories about single member Council districts in various Texas cities over the years. They often involve litigation, so these battles can have implications beyond the borders of the locality in question, but I just find the questions about why a given city should or should not change from an at large system to a district system to be fascinating. Anyway, for all those reasons when I came across this story about such a court fight going on in Boerne, which if you’re not familiar with it is a town of just over 10,000 people about 40 miles northwest of San Antonio, I had to click on it. In doing so, I found that it involved a couple of familiar names.
Although a recent court mandate has undone Boerne’s shift in 2010 to electing city council members by districts, city officials are resisting a return to cumulative voting — with the candidate filing period for the May election just weeks away.
“We’re pushing for single-member districts,” City Attorney Kirsten Cohoon said Wednesday after a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio.
Boerne resident Mike Morton, who filed the suit over the change, argues that any deviation from the at-large election system mandated by the city charter must be approved by voters.
The City Council voted in late 2009 to enact voting from five districts by modifying a lawsuit settlement it struck in 1996 with the League of United Latin American Citizens.
LULAC had sued the city, claiming the at-large voting system disadvantaged minority voters.
The original lawsuit settlement in 1997 called for adoption of cumulative voting, which allows residents to cast as many votes as there are seats to be filled.
Garcia asked whether a charter amendment to enact single-member district voting could be put on the May ballot in Boerne.
Although Morton said he would drop his suit if such a vote occurred, LULAC attorney Jose Garza indicated his clients would sue if voters defeated such a measure and cumulative voting continued in use.
Yes, that’s Judge Orlando Garcia of the three-judge panel that drew the now-disallowed maps for Congress, State Senate, and State House, and Jose Garza, who just argued the plaintiffs’ case before the Supreme Court. I daresay it’s been a busy few months for both of these gentlemen. Boerne is the first city I’ve heard of to use cumulative voting. I’m wondering how you might run a campaign differently under those conditions. Anyway, the reason for the agreed change that’s now being litigated is that in the 14 years they had cumulative voting, only one Latino candidate was ever elected to anything. For what it’s worth, according to the Wikipedia entry, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin of any race were 19.44% of the population. You can see the proposed single member district map here – it’s one of the least gerrymandered maps you’ll ever see. Whether it would further LULAC’s goals or not I couldn’t say, but as I generally favor single member districts I’m rooting for them.