Judge Finds Ferguson School Elections Biased

     ST. LOUIS (CN) — A federal judge Monday found Ferguson, Mo.’s at-large system for school board elections biased against black voters and said it must be changed before another election will be allowed.
     The December 2014 lawsuit, filed four months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown thrust the St. Louis suburb into the international spotlight, claimed the at-large election system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength. It was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and three residents of the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
     In a 119-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel wrote: “The ongoing effects of racial discrimination that have long plagued the region, and the District in particular, have affected the ability of African Americans to participate equally in the political process.”
     The Ferguson-Florissant School District was created by a 1975 desegregation order, to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students.
     But 40 years later, there was just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body.
     “This case is about African-American communities being able to hold their government accountable,” ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert said in a statement. “Today’s decision will lead to future school boards that are responsive to the needs of the community.”
     School district attorney Cindy Ormsby told The Associated Press that the district is considering options, including whether to appeal. She called the ruling disappointing.
     Ormsby said that three of the seven sitting board members are black, a percentage proportional to the racial breakdown of registered voters in the district. When the lawsuit was filed, the board had just one black member, according to the AP.
     “The District continues to believe that the current at-large electoral system is best for African-American representation,” Ormsby said in a statement.
     Brown, an unarmed black man, was fatally shot on Aug. 9, 2014, by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
     The shooting sparked months of often violent protests and put the topics of police racism and excessive force on front pages around the world.

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