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
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
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 ñ 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.