Sharyland ISD voters have the opportunity Monday to ask questions about the new voting system adopted by the district in February.
During this election, voters will revert back to the traditional “one man-one vote” format used by most governmental entities.
Until this year, one voter could cast multiple votes for the same person, depending on how many seats were up for election. For example, if two seats were up, a voter could cast two votes for one person or one vote for two candidates. It’s called a cumulative system.
The district adopted the cumulative system after it was sued in 1996 by the League of United Latin American Citizens, which was concerned about the available opportunities for Hispanics to win a place on the board.
In an oral history recorded by the University of Texas-Pan American, attorney Rolando L. Rios said Sharyland ISD was a classic case of the Latino vote being diluted.
At the time, he said, the student body was 85 percent Latino and the population was 70 percent Latino, but Latinos only made up 40 percent of the registered voters. As a result, Rios said, out of seven school board members, there was one Hispanic.
“They only have one, and he is basically a Hispanic who is hand-picked by the Anglos, so that is a classic example of an election system that has the impact of diluting the voting strength of minorities,” Rios said.
When asked why more Hispanic residents don’t register and vote, Rios said 20 to 30 percent of the residents can’t register because they are illegal or have a different citizenship status, even though they pay taxes and have children.
“And, a lot of times in these communities, when you do come out with an effort to get everybody registered and get them out to vote, they get all the Anglos … excited because they are afraid there is going to be a Mexican takeover and they get their people registered and they are more organized, and they come out to vote and so again it suppresses the collective voting aspect of the Hispanics,” Rios said.
David Mendez, the district’s attorney on the case, said after going to the federal district court in conjunction with the representatives of the original case, Sharyland ISD negotiated a modification to the election process, which converts the election process back to the more traditional “Plurality–at-large” election system.
The “at large” election system puts candidates into separate places, and voters choose one candidate in each place.
This year, in Place 1 incumbent Ricky Longoria is running against newcomer Alejandro Rodriguez. In Place 2, incumbent Juan F. Zuniga will be in the running with former Mission City Manager Julio Cerda.
Longoria said the election system change was community driven. He added with the new system, citizens would see an election process they are more familiar with.
“As a candidate, I haven’t run in it (Plurality-at-large election) so it is going to be different for me as well,” Longoria said. “As a voter, I do think it does make things a lot easier. Now it is a one man-one vote process.”
Rodriguez said the case was initially started due to the mindset that the school board needed more representation by minorities, and he added the cumulative system has served its purpose.
In Place 2, Zuniga said he likes the conversion to the new election process and added it has been a long time coming. He added some people may be hesitant to the change but said it is a system seen at surrounding municipalities.
Cerda said the former process was helpful in the ’90s but he is happy to see the change come to fruition.
“I’m excited. It will make sure everyone’s vote counts and doesn’t influence someone to come in and give more votes,” Cerda said. “It comes down to the citizens having a say so. It was great back in the day but now it’s back to one-on-one.”
Sharyland ISD is hosting a public meeting on the change Monday at 5:15 p.m. at the Administration Board Room, 1106 N. Shary Road. Early voting begins Monday, April 28, and ends May 6. Election Day is May 10. Spanish translators will be available.