Immigrant candidates for May’s school board elections in Queens and Staten Island can heave a sigh of relief. Last Tuesday, the city Commissioners of Elections decided to revert back to the old way of conducting school board elections, after a year-long confusion over ballot rules.
Immigrant groups and other small minority populations have long said that the old ballot method, called proportional representation, amplifies their votes. It allows each voter to rank nine candidates, which may provide some groups their only shot at office: For example, all the Asian-American elected officials in the state are city school board members.
But last summer, a new election law replaced the school board system with a winner-take-all method. The idea was to simplify the balloting process, but it meant that small groups isolated in a larger population could easily see their votes swamped. “Under winner-takes-all, it’s harder for smaller groups to be represented,” explained Sachi Dastidar, a South-Asian school board member in Bayside, Queens.
The Justice Department struck down the law last month, but that decision affected only Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, leaving open the possibility that the winner-take-all method would still apply in Queens and Staten Island. It took the Commissioners’ decision to kill the split-city plan.