Bill Gives Power to Voters
Measure Could Alter County Boards

By Kristen Schmidt
Published February 21st 2003 in Northwest Herald
WOODSTOCK ­ A bill that would allow voters to advise the McHenry County Board on district makeup, board size and voting methods passed the Statehouse on Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jack Franks, could be heard on the Senate floor next week. The measure has rankled some McHenry County Republicans, who say the bill resurrects an antiquated form of voting and could hurt rural-community representation.

If the bill becomes law, residents of counties where each district is represented by more than one person could place an advisory referendum on the ballot asking any of these questions:

* How many people should sit on the county board?

* Should they be elected in single-member, multimember or at-large

* Should voters be allowed to choose county board members through cumulative voting?

With cumulative voting, the voter can divide votes between candidates as desired, potentially giving all four votes to the same candidate.

The bill does not let residents create a binding, or policy-changing, referendum. But it does empower voters to change the system, Franks said.

"This will let people in smaller towns have their voices be heard,"Franks said. "It's giving another option. It's not a mandate. It's always better to give people the option for self-determination."

The referendums would be strong signals to county government, Franks said.

"Let the people decide how and what form of government they want, as opposed to it being dictated to them," he said.

Illinois voters elected the state Legislature using cumulative voting from 1870 until 1980. More recently, cumulative voting has been imposed in voting-rights cases for city council elections in Peoria and in other cities and counties across the country.

Some voting-rights scholars have said cumulative voting is a way for a community to achieve fair minority representation, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy.

If four candidates run for office in a four-member district, a voter can vote once for each candidate or not use votes.

Others say a cumulative-voting ballot confuses the voter and that the system is outdated and served out its purpose decades ago.

"It didn't work then, and it won't work now. People voted 30 years ago to get rid of this," county board Chairman Michael Tryon said Thursday. "I personally think voters in this county would soundly reject that."

The county has not divided into single-member districts because that could threaten rural areas' representation on the board, Tryon said.

Franks denied the bill is partisan, pointing out Republican support. But McHenry County Republicans say the measure is a way for the Democratic minority to unfairly occupy seats on the county board. All 24 members of the McHenry County Board are Republicans.

"Voters in this county take their vote very seriously. If you have a voting system that works, don't mess with it. We all hold that very, very, very close to our hearts," Tryon said.