Though no school board election will take place, mail-in ballots on the budget will be counted
A federal appeals court has turned back East Ramapo’s attempt to hold school board elections on Tuesday under an at-large voting system, which a lower court said is unfair to black and Latino voters.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Thursday rejected East Ramapo’s request to stay U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel’s ruling in a voting rights case. The case was filed by the Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP.
The panel set Aug. 17 as the earliest date for when it could hear arguments in the district’s appeal of Seibel’s May 26 ruling. That means a special election to fill four open seats on the nine-member board would likely not happen until September at the earliest.
The panel did not hold arguments before issuing a ruling, instead relying on court papers submitted by lawyers for the East Ramapo Central School District and the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represents the NAACP together with Latham & Watkins.
But in a brief decision, it noted the district had failed to meet the standard for a stay “including, most critically, the likelihood of success on the merits and irreparable harm absent a stay.”
District lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Budget vote will count
With in-person voting canceled due to the pandemic, mail-in ballots for Tuesday’s election have already been sent out with the names of school board candidates. While candidate votes won’t be tallied, votes for or against the district’s $247 million budget as well as a library trustee will be counted.
Lawyers for the NAACP argued that if Tuesday’s elections were to go ahead they would be held under a system that a federal judge already said violates the Voting Rights Act by excluding blacks and Latinos from East Ramapo’s political process.
In a statement, NYCLU attorney Perry Grossman said the civil liberties organization was pleased with a decision “which acknowledged that the district has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their appeal.”
He added: “We’re confident that the Second Circuit will ultimately affirm the District Court’s thorough and well-reasoned decision. For now, we look forward to continuing unabated the process of implementing an election system that complies with the Voting Rights Act and respects the rights of Black and Latino people.”
Seibel ordered the district to create a ward or neighborhood-based system in order to increase the participation of minorities in school board voting.
Under the current at-large setup, each of the district’s 60,000 registered voters can vote for candidates for open seats. With a ward system, voters from a designated district would vote for candidates to represent that district.”
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