Bill targets county board elections

By Kate Clemnets
Published February 21st 2003 in Champaign-Urbana News Gazette
Multimember district county boards, like those in Champaign and Vermilion counties, could opt to elect members through cumulative voting under a bill the Illinois House approved Thursday.
Cumulative voting would allow county residents to cast all three of their votes for a single county board candidate, or spread their votes among two or three candidates.

"I really haven't been able to think about what that means, but I think that is something that we would look at and consider," said Champaign County Board Chairwoman Patricia Avery. "I hesitate to say what we would do collectively. I can see in some instances where cumulative voting might be a powerful tool."

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, sponsored the bill at the request of some of his McHenry County constituents, but it would apply to all counties that elect multiple members for each district.

The measure would also allow voters to petition to put an advisory referendum on the ballot to indicate to the county board their level of support of cumulative voting.

"This bill really isn't about whether you are for or against cumulative voting," Franks said. "We are not mandating it. This is just giving people the right of self determination."

State Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, said cumulative voting is done at the city council level in Peoria and it is not considered by all to be a success. Some feel it allows special-interest and single-issue candidates and their followers to thwart the will of the community, he said.

"I would have to tell you at least on the part of many citizens, there is a great dissatisfaction with cumulative voting," Leitch said. "It enables the process to be upset and to be distorted."  

But Franks said cumulative voting would give candidates from small hamlets in districts dominated by a larger city a better chance to win and therefore represent the interests of their more rural constituents.

Cumulative voting also helps candidates from the minority party in a district, because voters from that party can give them all three of their votes.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, voted against the legislation, not because he dislikes cumulative voting, but because he said the bill "was clearly targeted toward" a specific political argument in McHenry County and he did not think the Legislature should get involved in a local political fight.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, voted for the bill. She said she did not have an opinion as to whether the Champaign County Board should switch to cumulative voting, but said she believed that there were some people who might want to look at doing so.

State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, also voted yes.   

The measure now heads to the Senate.