"Quiet as kept, the real stunner in last April's election for at-large seats on Peoria's City Council wasn't Leonard Unes' loss or Gary Sandberg's win. Incumbents have gotten beaten before. Candidates unpopular with mainstream leaders have gotten elected before. The real surprise was incumbent Eric Turner's first-place finish in an election where incumbents generally didn't make impressive showings."
"Turner, one of two blacks in a field of nine candidates, is a bona fide first. It happened for many reasons, but cumulative voting is one of them. Never before has a black candidate come in first in Peoria's citywide, at-large election."
- Pam Adams, Peoria Journal-Star, Jan. 12, 2000
Peoria Election System Basics
Peoria, Illinois, uses equal-and-even cumulative voting to elect its city council members. Voters elect five at-large city council members using this form of proportional voting. The remaining five seats are filled with district elections. Elections take place every four years. On April 17, 2007, Peoria held its most recent city council elections. Among those elected during the at-large council elections was political newcomer Ryan Spain, who at 24 years old is one of the youngest council members ever to serve.
Cumulative Voting Basics
As with all proportional and semi-proportional systems, cumulative voting (CV) requires representatives to be elected from multi-seat districts, that is, with more than one representative. Voters in each district have as many votes as there are seats to be filled, as would be true in a plurality election, but CV allows voters to express a strong preference for their favorite candidate or candidates. Unlike with winner-take-all, they are not restricted to giving just one vote to a candidate. If like-minded voters in a political minority concentrate their votes on one candidate in a three-seat election, for example, they can win representation despite their minority status. In a three-seat district elected by cumulative voting, a candidate can be sure of winning one seat with the support of about 25 percent of voters.
There are two varieties of cumulative voting. Peoria has used the latter since 1991, when a voting rights case called on the city to change its winner-take-all system.
- Free cumulative voting: In free CV, voters may allocate their votes in any manner they choose. For instance, in a district electing five seats to a legislature, voters would cast five votes and could split them up as they chose: all five votes for their favorite candidate, perhaps, or three votes for one candidate and two votes for another, or any other combination adding up to five votes. The five candidates winning the highest number of votes are elected.
- Equal and even cumulative voting: In equal and even CV, voters cast votes for as many candidates as they prefer, and their votes are allocated equally among those candidates. In a five-seat race, voting for just one candidate would give that candidate five votes. Voting for two candidates would give each one 2.5 votes, and voting for four candidates would give each candidate 1.25 votes. Equal and even CV (also called the Peoria method, as it is used to elect the at-large city council seats in Peoria, IL) makes it easier for candidates to run as a team.
Important Peoria Elections Decided by Cumulative Voting
- In 1991, cumulative voting helped elect two African American candidates to the city council. Even-and-equal cumulative voting was introduced in 1987 to resolve a voting rights lawsuit that invovled the city. The 1991 election demonstrated its success at ensuring fairer representation for all groups.
- In 1999, political newcomer John Morris was elected to the city council. He came in first during the city's at-large primary elections and placed second in the general at-large elections.
- In 2007, 24 year old political newcomer Ryan Spain was elected to the city council. He placed second in the city's at-large primary election in February, beating out two incumbents and 10 other challengers. During the general at-large elections in April, he placed third.
- FairVote amicus brief in support of CV as Voting Rights Act remedy
- FairVote charter review commission testimony citing experience of CV in Peoria
- Several quantitative analyses of CV dynamics in Peoria. See: Bowler, Donovan and Brockington. Electoral Reform and Minority Representation: Local Experiments with Alternative Elections. Ohio State, 2003.
- Solid analysis of election competitiveness under CV. See: Full report of the Illinois Assembly on Alternative Electoral Systems.
- Sample CV statutory language
- "Cumulative Voting and Minority Candidates: An Analysis of the 1991 Peoria City Council Elections," in The American Review of Politics, Vol. 17: Fall, 1996.