Illinois Poll Shows Support for IRV
FairVote, in partnership with the Midwest Democracy Center and Roosevelt University,on Feb. 20-22, 2004 conducted a telephone poll in Illinois heading into the state's March 16 primary. The poll included several questions directly about instant runoff voting.

Here is a preliminary review of results. There also was a news article in the Daily Herald (IL).

Our poll was done with 550 Democrats and 550 Republicans. We asked for second and third choices in both the U.S. Senate primaries (each major party has large fields of candidates), in the Democratic presidential primary and, for Republicans, for president in the general election.

We asked four questions measuring support for instant runoff voting. Here are the results. Note the strongest support was for using IRV for general elections for the President.

1. In some previous primary elections, the winner has earned less than 50% of the vote because votes are spread among several candidates. Are you comfortable with the current way of voting, which can result in a
non-majority winner, or would you like to see changes that would better assure that the winner is supported by more than 50% of primary voters?
         Comfortable with current way of voting-  54%
         Would like to see changes - 41%
         Don't know - 5%

2. In some parts of the United States, voters can pick both a first-choice candidate and a second-choice so that its easier to know which candidate has majority support. Would you like to have the option to pick a first-choice candidate and a second-choice candidate when you vote in Illinois primaries?
         Yes - 47.0%
         No  - 46.5%
         Not sure - 5%

3. Would you like to have this option when electing mayors and local elected officials?
         Yes  - 44%
         No  - 51%
         Not sure  - 5%

4. When electing the U.S. President, each state has a certain number of Electoral College votes. In Illinois, all the Electoral College votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in the popular election. Would you like a second choice option to better ensure that the winner of Illinois Electoral College votes has the majority support of Illinois voters?
          Yes - 50%
          No - 41%
          Not sure  - 9%

* Fully one-third of voters admit to being likely to switch from their favorite choice in the primary if they perceive that candidate would not have a chance to win. That shows the self-fulfilling power of voter perception that can boost  the power of the media and of polling and increase the odds for candidates who have the resources to spend money early and get attention as a front-runner.

* The survey of second choices had useful nuggets, showing an unofficial alliance among supporters of the top two front-running Democrats in the Senate primary -- which could lead to attacks between those campaigns, as they're going after similar voters -- and showing just how solid John Kerry's support now is in the Democratic presidential race.

* You can see the full survey here. Also posted there is FairVote's initial analysis, done in conjunction with James Lewis of Roosevelt University

Illinois Drive to Revive Cumulative Voting

In 1999 the Institute for Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois received a major grant to conduct a study of the impact of the state's conversion from cumulative voting to single-member districts in 1980. The IGPA formed a task force to analyze different electoral systems and make recommendations. Co-chaired by former Republican governor Jim Edgar and former Democratic Congressman and federal judge Abner Mikva, the task force members included leading state legislators and civic leaders.

The task force has called for reviving cumulative voting, and the Institute for Government and Public Affairs has issued an excellent report about their deliberations and the history of cumulative voting in the state. The Illinois story is a testimony to the impact of even very modest full representation plans. In this case, it still required close to 25% of the vote to win a seat in a in three-seat district, but this change was significant for a broader range of political forces to participate in elections, win representation and contribute to good policy-making.

Read the executive summary of the report here (pdf)
Illinois Student Government Adopts Proportional Representation

By Office of the Student Body President
Published November 15th 2001

Illinois Student Government (ISG) elections will now be governed by proportional representation instead of a winner-take-all system, following a student body referendum overwhelmingly supporting the change earlier this week.

The change to the ISG Constitution will specifically alter the election of the executive positions to an instant-runoff process, and the fifteen elected ISG assembly members will be chosen by the open-party list method of proportional representation.

November 12 and 13, 3,640 University of Illinois students voted in support of the measure, while 1,187 students voted against making the change.

This referendum success is seen by many as an opportunity to dramatically increase the political and cultural diversity of Illinois Student Government.

"This will give opportunity to minority students while the current system has failed them," said ISG Governmental Affairs Committee Vice-Chair Kate Harshman. "Im excited to see the impact of this referendum on the March 2002 ISG elections. I believe youll find that students who had previously been disenfranchised by ISG, will now realize that they can win a voice on student government with only 20-30% of the total vote."

Illinois Student Government presented the referendum question to the student body following complaints and concerns about a lack of cultural and political minority representation in student government.

The movement towards proportional representation mirrors a similar movement within the Illinois state legislature to return to cumulative voting and 3-member districts.

HOW IT HAPPENED: An Analysis by CVD's National Field Director Dan Johnson-Weinberger

When I attended the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urban, in 1996 I helped found a group to advocate for proportional representation.

Through columns in the school newspaper and aggressive petition drives for the Illinois legislature and the city of Urbana, we ultimately convinced the good-government leadership of the student government in the winter of 1997 to put on the spring 1997 ballot a PR referendum. Unfortunately, the measure was defeated.

As it turns out, generally the Greek houses dominated student government from the mid-nineties through the end of the decade. Political 'slates' formed as parties, and they tended to be racially polarized. Usually, the Greek slate was overwhelmingly white, while a slate of African-American cultural groups formed with some participation from student activists from other racial minority groups. Predictably, the Greek slate won almost all of the seats, usually leaving the racial minority slate with almost no representation.

In the 1997 election, there was no formal opposition to the referendum. Unfortunately, there was no slate of African-Americans that year, and it became essentially a one-slate campaign. That slate did not benefit from proportional representation, and the election was lost -- even though there was almost no public opposition to the measure.

Participation in the student government started to shift away from the Greek houses and towards the political students, and those political students tended to be more reform-minded..

In the fall of 2000, a progressive slate won control of the student government, led by Bob Morgan at student body president. This slate tended to emphasize racial diversity and service learning. Bob in particular promoted proportional representation and managed to convince the student government to put proportional representation on the ballot in a fall 2001 referendum.

Again, there was no opposition to the measure. This time, however, the message of proportional representation had clearly penetrated more students.

While campaigning on campus for this election, I was struck with how many more students knew what proportional representation was (if vaguely) and was impressed with the consensus that it was fairer than winner-take-all than with what had existed in 1997. I remain convinced that the basic message of proportional representation still resonates: if a group gets 20% of the vote, it is only fair that they get 20% of the representation. More people had heard of it, thought about it and supported the idea.

So now, students voted to change the Illinois Student Government bylaws to proportional representation and instant runoff voting, five years after a group had first formed to advocate for the smarter electoral system. I believe the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, with 36,000 students, is the first university to use an open-list proportional system for the legislature and instant runoff voting for the executives. It was really gratifying to see the consensus shift on campus.

I think the lesson is to hammer away and advocate for electoral reform -- especially to 'political' people who pay attention to politics and/or serve in public office. We electoral reformers can work to put our issues in the realm of public debate -- whether they get implemented as part of the consensus is, in part, ultimately beyond our control.