I’m late to this, but better late than never/
A former candidate for the Spring Branch ISD school board has filed a lawsuit alleging the district’s election policies are in violation of national laws against voting discrimination.
In her complaint, Virginia Elizondo, a Spring Branch ISD parent who ran for a position on the board in 2015 and 2021, claims that the district’s system of at-large elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The complaint was filed by attorney Barry Abrams of Blank Rome LLP with the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas, Houston Division on June 18.
Specifically, it cites the clause in the Voting Rights Act that “prohibits enforcement of any voting qualification, prerequisite to voting, standard, practice, or procedure that results in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color, or language minority status.”
Unlike nearby Houston ISD, which uses zoned elections where each of the nine trustees are elected from a geographic zone, Spring Branch ISD uses at-large elections for each of its seven trustees are elected by the entire district and represent the entire district. Several local districts, such as Humble ISD, use at-large elections.
Elizondo’s lawsuit seeks a court injunction prohibiting Spring Branch ISD from using its at-large system of voting.
The complaint states that “Dr. Elizondo (who has a Doctorate in Education from the University of Houston) has standing to seek relief in this suit as a minority district voter who is experiencing vote dilution because of the SBISD at-large system for electing its Board of Trustees.”
It also cites the fact that, according to demographic information from the Texas Education Agency, of the 33,288 that were enrolled in Spring Branch ISD, 19,335, or about 58 percent were Latino or Hispanic whereas white students made up about 27 percent of the student body.
The complaint claims that the current at-large method of electing trustees “results in the district’s Latino and minority citizens having less opportunity than other members to participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice.”
I have a copy of the lawsuit here; it was filed in June, and as far as I can tell there has been no action relating to it since. I touched on some of these issues when I wrote about Elizondo’s candidacy in the May election. The SBISD Board of Trustees has posted this response, and a recent school board meeting featured some very rowdy residents who wanted something more forceful. Note the featured photo at the top of the story, with the sign from the protesters that says “Don’t HISD My SBISD”, which says quite a bit more than perhaps the sign holders intended.
I’ve written quite a bit in the past decade or so about single member districts and the places where litigation has been waged to implement them as a way of getting any kind of representation for communities of color. Since I’ve been following this issue, cities like Irving and Farmers Branch and most recently Pasadena were ordered to switch to single member districts or a hybrid system; in all cases, the change has resulted in more people of color being elected, often the first ever people of color elected to the respective City Councils. That’s what is at stake in Spring Branch, though the complaint and the SMD proponents are also advocating for more early voting locations on the north side of I-10 where more than 50% of SBISD students reside, and a robust voter registration program in all SBISD high schools. I expect this will take a couple of years to get to a final resolution, but in the meantime there’s a lot that local activists can do to persuade the existing Board to take action on those other items.