Cumulative Voting Gets Second Look

By Ron Ingram
Published April 28th 2002 in Decatur Herald and Review

Twenty years after cumulative voting was removed from the Illinois Constitution, the Midwest Democracy Center in Chicago is working to bring it back.

Legislators and Dan Johnson-Weinberger, the center's director, say the idea has no chance of making the Nov. 5 ballot. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan opposes the effort, and there is not enough time to gather the signatures of 500,000 registered voters to petition the question onto the ballot, Johnson-Weinberger said.

But Johnson-Weinberger said he is hopeful that raising awareness of the issue now will pay future dividends.

Cumulative voting was used to elect Illinois state representatives from 1870 until 1980. A 1980 citizen initiative led by Patrick Quinn, now the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, got the practice voted out, but the change could not take effect until 1982.

Under cumulative voting, each person had three votes which could be cast for one candidate or 1.5 votes for each of two candidates or one vote for each of three candidates in House districts from which three representatives were elected. The upshot was minority party representation in each district.

The Illinois House had 177 members. Quinn used a call to reduce the size of the body -- and thus trim expenses -- as a major selling point for the push to do away with cumulative voting.

Proponents of cumulative voting claim the present "winner-take-all" system reduces the number of viewpoints among legislators and disenfranchises minority political parties. They say the return of such voting would increase the number of contested House elections.

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said he "probably would vote for it" if the issue came before the House, but he would have to see how much it would cost.

"Partisanship has increased in the last 20 years," Mitchell said. "Politics in Illinois have gotten more mean. The present system has strengthened the legislative leaders' roles. And cost has gone up. We have more staff than ever."

State Rep. Julie A. Curry, D-Mount Zion, is opposed to cumulative voting returning. She said she can't see any benefit to downstate voters whose voices in Springfield would be further diminished because the state's population shift to the Chicago suburbs would give that area even more clout.

More information is available on the Midwest Democracy Center's Web site,