Charleston Post and Courier
Charleston Gazette Post
and Courier, Monday, March 5, 2001.
Voting' Would Enhance Fairness in Charleston County
Rep. James E. Clyburn
The U.S. Justice Deparment's recent court challenge to at-large
elections for Charleston County Council offers the perfect
oppportunity to provide enlightened and innovative leadership in an
area which cries out for leadership.
current nine-member County Council has only one black
representative, despite their 31 percent composition of the county's
registered voters. Charleston County voters have previously rejected
creating single-member districts for the council, and it may be of
some surprise to them and some others that I am not writing in
opposition to that rejection.
For almost 20 years now, I have
been advocating alternative voting methods to at-large elections and
single-member districts. I am a proponent of proportional voting.
While not new to South Carolina, and unfamiliar to most current
residents, proportional voting utilizes multimember-districts and
does away with divisive winner-take-all elections.
three different forms of proportional voting. One of them,
Preference Voting, allows voters to rank as many or as few
candidates as they wish in order of preference, i.e. first, second,
and third. Once a candidate receives enough votes to assure a
victory or is mathematically eliminated, second preferences on the
ballots are counted.
A second form is Limited Voting. This
method gives voters fewer votes than the number of seats to be
filled. For instance, if there are three seats open, each voter is
allowed to vote for two or only one. Winning candidates are
determined by a simple plurality. Versions of this method are
currently used in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Hartford, Conn.;
and many smaller jurisdictions around the United States.
personal favorite is a third method, Cumulative Voting. Under this
method, voters get as many votes as there are seats to fill, and
they may distribute those votes among the candidates as he or she
wishes. Looking at the sample ballot in the accompanying graphic,
there are six candidates running for three seats.
first instance, the voter divided up the votes: one each for Jane
Brown, Joe Green, and Bill Orange. In the second instance the voter
divided the three votes, giving two to Jane Brown and one to Bill
Orange. In the final instance, the voter gave all three votes to
Cumulative voting was used in South Carolina from
1870-1880, when the practice was ended as a means to disenfranchise
black voters. However, cumulative voting was just implemented in
Amarillo, Texas, for school board elections as a settlement of a
lawsuit similar to the one currently facing Charleston County. Its
first test had historic results. Of the four seats available, the
winnesr included the first African-American and first Hispanic woman
ever elected to the board . Voter turnout also quadrupled from the
Increased voter participation is another
tangible benefit of using proportional voting. The United States is
the only major democracy in the world that still uses
winner-take-all elections. And I sincerely believe it to be the
primary cause for voter apathy. By giving all the power to a
candidate who may only receive a plurality of the votes depresses
voter participation and increases voter disenchantment.
Winner-take-all means candidates can get less than 40
percent of the vote and their supporters still get 100 percent of
the representation. Proportional voting allows minority voters and
parties to pool their votes and enhance their voices.
not a newcomer to the idea of proportional voting. I have openly
advocated it since the early 1980s, and have recently co-sponsored
legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to allow states to
create multimember congressional districts.
lawsuit in Charleston County provides the perfect opportunity to
test proportional voting's viability in South Carolina. In light of
increased voter distrust of our election system, Charleston County
can lead the way by implementing this innovative system.
will not only settle the lawsuit without single-member districts but
could very well ensure better participation and more effective
representation for all its citizens.
James E. Clyburn
represents South Carolina's Sixth District in the U.S. House of