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Ottawa Times (IL)

Plan Splits Area Legislators: cumulative voting dropped in 1980

By Myke Feinman
August 5, 2001

A decades-old voting system gave both parties a say in government or hurt teamwork and created "deadwood" legislators, depending on whom you ask.

State Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru, opposes the system. Reps. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, and Mary K. O'Brien, D-Coal City, support it.

The Illinois Assembly on Political Representation and Alternative Electoral Systems, led by former Gov. Jim Edgar and former federal Judge Abner Mikva, wants to bring back "cumulative voting."

That was the decades-old system in use through 1980 that gave people multiple votes they could use for a single candidate or spread out among several to elect three representatives for each legislative district.

The system- at the time the only one of its kind in the nation- was dropped in favor of a winner-take-all approach in 1980 when voters also cut the number of House members by one-third.

At the time of cumulative voting, there were 177 representatives in Springfield. Now there are 118. "In this district here, my father, Richard Mautino, was under cumulative voting." Frank Mautino said. "At that time his district was also a Republican district. There were two Republicans and one Democrat. That way both parties always had a say."

Mautino said the way in which the change was sold to the public was that eliminating cumulative voting would save the state money. "It didn't happen," Mautino said. "What was done to replace representatives was expansion of partisan staffs." Mautino said he did not believe reverting to the old system would pass because changing to the present system created a concentration of power in the leadership and they won't give up their power.

"It created power in the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, "Mautino said. " Prior to that, politically, you did not have to go to the Speaker or to the President of the Senate (to introduce a bill). You could bring ideas forward and try to convince people in both parties. By returning to cumulative voting, it would decentralize that power. People in power do not want to give it up."

Welch, who is assistant minority leader in the Senate, agrees with Mautino about the savings, but not the system.

"It causes factions within the majority as well as the minority groups," Welch said. "I agree it doesn't save us money. But the part of the argument that it has lead to a concentration of power in leaders I don't think that follows."

Welch defeated Betty Hoxey, Marseilles, for the Senate seat in 1982, saying that was the first time Hoxey ran for the Senate in a two-candidate race. Hoxey had been a state representative running with two other candidates under the old system.

Rep. Mary K. O'Brien, D-Coal City, believes cumulative voting would be good for voters and bring government closer to the people.

"I just think that the closer you are and the more there are legislators, there's always strength in numbers," O'Brien said Tuesday. "The closer government is to you, the more say you have in government. Where legislative districts are half the size of senate districts, people seem to know their representatives better than their senator. People want cooperation. If you look around, our legislators in our area work very well together."

Welch countered that the old system gave seats to legislators who did nothing for their constituents.

"You get a lot more deadwood with the system," Welch said. "Number one, you've got people running to be the second candidate to be the minority party in the district. What we used to have in this district is the minority party with two candidates that split the ticket. That hinders teamwork."

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