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Pasadena School Board Changes Little Under New System

From guest blogger Nora Fleming

Incumbents prevailed in the Pasadena school board election yesterday, with voters re-electing three sitting members and one newcomer in the district's first election under a new system aimed at creating more diversity on the board.

Ten candidates campaigned for four open seats on the school board, but incumbents Kim Kenne (District 1), Elizabeth Pomeroy (District 5), and Scott Phelps (District 7) kept their seats. Newcomer Ruben Hueso, a Latino, was successful, however, in securing the most votes for the District 3, however, his 49.9 percent of the vote will pit him in another election next month against another newcomer, Tyron Hampton, who is black and won 36.8 percent of the vote. (Mr. Hueso needed 50 percent plus 1 to avoid a runoff.)

The 18,650-student Pasadena district enrolls students from a 76-square-mile area made up of Pasadena, Altadena, and Sierra Madre.

Pasadena's March 5 election was the first to take place under a new system designed to bring more diversity to the school board. Voters could vote only for candidates that are running from the district, or trustee area, they live in, rather than any candidate on the ballot. The switch from at-large elections was spurred by the district's effort to comply with the 2001 California Voting Rights Act, which prohibits localities from operating election systems that prevent communities with large percentages of minorities from electing candidates of their choice.

In recent years, increasing numbers of school districts in California have been sued over their school board election systems, encouraging others to voluntarily switch to trustee-area elections either through a voter-approval or waiver process.

Last June, Pasadena-area voters approved the switch from at-large to district elections, dividing voters among seven "districts" of 28,900 residents each, with each district corresponding to a seat on the Pasadena school board. Of the 10 candidates running—three white, four Latino, and three black—seven were newcomers.

But only one newcomer was successful, and all three white candidates were re-elected, affirming what some critics of the state's voting rights law argue: that shifting election systems offers no guarantee of improving diversity on locally elected bodies.

But proponents feel differently, arguing that a shift does not mean there should be a dramatic change overnight. More minority candidates must first start running (which occurred in Pasadena), and minority voters must show up to the polls to vote for them, people say, a process that evolves over time as the public begins to see they have a "vote that counts" in local elections.

The school board and city council races were the only items on the ballot in Pasadena yesterday, which people had predicted would not only mean low voter turnout generally, but that new voters, such as those more inclined to vote for new candidates, would be less inclined to go to the polls.

There were 7,771 total votes, in the school board race, according to the city clerk's website.

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