Cumulative voting might be county board reality

By Maggie Dunphy
Published February 27th 2003
The Illinois House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would allow county boards to elect members through cumulative voting. Through cumulative voting, county voters would be able to cast all three of their votes for a single county board candidate if they wanted to do so. The bill also would allow counties to conduct advisory referendums to decide how board members would be elected and how many members would be elected.

"This bill allows counties to do what they want to do," said Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, R-Glenview, who voted in favor of the bill. "Our state is so diverse," Coulson said. "It allows each county to elect members as they see fit."

The bill applied to all counties with multimember boards, which includes Champaign County.

Rep. Paul D. Froehlich, R-Schaumburg, signed on as co-sponsor of the bill after it was discussed in committee.

"I'd like to see counties be able to experiment if they so choose," Froehlich said.

Champaign County Board member Kevin Brumback disagreed with the bill.

"The problem I have is that we as voters each have one vote, and I have a feeling this will allow blocks of people to push behind single candidates and get them elected," he said.

"I just think this is a bad, bad idea," Brumback said. "This is going to skew the election."

There was about 20 minutes of debate on the House floor, Froehlich said, but the bill passed 73-40.

"It's an interesting idea," said Rep. Mike Boland, D- Moline, who voted for the bill. "In particular, I think it will affect those counties where one candidate is predominant."

If passed, the new way of voting could benefit minority candidates, Froehlich said.

"If it were adopted by a county, it would give minorities, either racial or political, the opportunity to get at least one candidate elected," he said. "Now the minority is empowered."

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Carbondale, was originally against the bill but voted in favor of it after it was redrafted.

Bost said some people have concerns about cumulative voting because it "brings in a lot of deal cutting." If one community wanted a certain person elected, it could make for a hard campaign to get the person "bulleted" in, Bost said. A bullet is when a candidate receives all three votes from one voter.

With this form of campaigning, "they can sway the majority," Bost said.

"The few people I called on the McHenry County Board did not want cumulative voting," said Rep. Mark H. Beaubien Jr., R- Wauconda. Beaubien voted against the bill.

The Illinois General Assembly had cumulative voting until the early 1980s. Bost said until this time, each district had three representatives and one senator who ran at large within the district. Some representatives benefited from cumulative voting while others were disadvantaged by it, depending on each representative's community support.

"You can have one area overload it," Bost said.

Despite potential problems with cumulative voting, Bost supported the bill.

"It is up to the individual counties whether to enforce cumulative voting," Bost said. "This bill isn't going to force county boards to use cumulative voting, so it's still a local control issue."

The Illinois Senate will look at the bill during session Thursday.