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The Journal-Register (IL)

Cumulative voting helps give voice to all

By Dan Johnson-Weinberger
August 8, 2001

The Journal-Register's decision to deride cumulative voting for the Illinois House of Representatives betrays an odd political philosophy.

A blue ribbon task force led by former Gov. Jim Edgar and ex- congressman Abner Mikva released a report calling for a return to cumulative voting in three-member, used to elect the state House from 1870-1980. The Journal-Register came out against the Edgar-Mikva recommendation as "the task force is off base when it suggests that a House member of one party does not adequately represent his or her constituents of another party."

In other words, according to the Journal-Register a Republican politician can represent a Democratic constituent. A pro- life legislator can represent the views of a pro-choice constituent. A pro-gun control representative can adequately speak for a member of the National Rifle Association.

Is this really what the Journal-Register believes?

It's an odd thought: You can disagree with everything your state representative stands for, and still be "adequately represented" by them. If the Journal-Register really believes this, then they shouldn't have a problem with electing one person from a district.

But this is the biggest problem with our political system: Not everyone gets represented. Only the local majority gets the voice. The political minority- Democrats in Sangamon County and DuPage County, Republicans in Cook County- goes without any voice at all. This is taxation without representation.

Fortunately, it is an easy problem to solve: Just elect more than one person from a larger district. We used to elect three representatives from a district, because Illinois understood that one person- no matter how well-intentioned- cannot represent a diverse group of constituents.

We don't have to increase the size of the House to get a House that represents everyone. We can just use bigger districts.

The editorial suggests that radical minorities would be worse off using cumulative voting because the districts would be larger than they are now.

Outside Chicago and East St. Louis, there are no blacks or Hispanics in the General Assembly. There are more than 200,000 racial minorities in scattered concentrations all over the great plain of downstate Illinois. But they are not concentrated enough to make a majority of a state representative district, so there are no racial minorities elected.

Just imagine if all of downstate Illinois was one massive district that elected 40 state representatives. Any candidate that could collect 100,000 votes would be elected as one of the 40 representatives. Then we would see elected blacks and Hispanics from a region that only elects whites now, because the 200,000-some minorities that are scattered all over downstate would have an opportunity to elect about two representatives. This massive district would create a more racially diverse General Assembly.

We shouldn't go that far, of course. The district would be far too large. But the example makes the point: Far from hurting the electoral opportunities of racial minorities, bigger districts that elect more than one person can liberate voters from the political suppression of winner-take-all elections. The editorial is wrong when it suggests that larger districts inevitably invite legal challenges- courts have smiled upon cumulative voting in larger districts, as that gives all voters a chance to elect one of their own.

Peoria is a good example. After blacks sued the city because they could not win any representation, the parties settled in a citywide system of cumulative voting. With five people to be elected citywide, any group that could earn 20 percent of the vote could win one of the five seats. Blacks fit that category- but so did political newcomers. Perhaps Springfield should have followed Peoria's example and settled its lawsuit by using cumulative voting instead of slicing the city up into single-member districts for the city council. Bigger districts with cumulative voting are fair to everyone, including racial minorities.

Illinois has an opportunity to show the entire nation how to include all voters in a legislature. There is legislation in the House Executive Committee right now House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 4. If the General Assembly passes this amendment, it will appear on the November 2002 ballot. It would bring back cumulative voting in 39 districts, each electing three representatives. It deserves the support of the Journal-Register.

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