Old System Better for
By Judy Baar Topinka, Illinois
Cumulative voting should be brought back. It
provided better representation and was a fairer way to serve the
people of Illinois, writes Judy Baar Topinka.
How do I know that cumulative voting
works and ought to be brought back? Because I have lived the system,
was in the last group of representatives elected through this system
and saw the benefits that a system like cumulative voting could
provide to an independent-thinking person like myself to be able to
run and win against long odds and well-oiled
Twenty years ago the public voted to
end Illinois' unique system of cumulative voting, the only such
system in the United States to provide representation to both
majority and minority candidates from each party. The public was
upset that representatives had voted themselves a chunky pay raise,
and now it was payback time. Furthermore, it is always fun to
Yes, the legislature is probably
more efficient now, but at what cost?
The only savings incurred was that
of the salaries of one-third of the House of Representatives. From
that point on, there was more expensive hired staff, more
introduction of bills and more concentration of power in the hands
of the legislative leaders.
The governor and the Four Tops are
not a rock band but five individuals in whom the power of the
legislature rests while individual representatives have watched
their influences lessen to an echo.
While visiting with a legislator
attending a seminar I was conducting, I asked him, generically, how
he was doing.
"What difference does it make?" he
snapped. "It doesn't make any difference what I say or do or want or
need for my district. The leadership controls everything. We get
stuff to vote on when they decide on what they want. We don't even
know what we are voting on."
I was rather taken aback at his
remarks. But then, legislators for many years now have been calling
themselves "the Mushrooms" because mushrooms are kept in the dark
and fedıwell, you know what mushrooms get for
Under the cumulative voting system,
people could pick three representatives per district--two from the
majority party, one from the minority.
Now, there is only the majority
party representative, who has become more and more partisan as
elections have grown more costly and special interests have become
stronger. Special interests no longer have to dissipate energy over
three representatives per district; they can concentrate on one with
far better aim and results.
Elections have gotten more cutthroat
and nastier, too. Independent Republicans and independent Democrats
could no longer use the "bullet ballot" of casting three votes for
one candidate to fight the various political machines that exist
around the state. And independents of either party did not fit the
cookie-cutter shapes that polling and prescribed legislative
districts now demanded. Debate, issues, committees and all other
aspects of the House could now be controlled.
The cumulative voting system,
although unique, was not broken and needed no fixing. Although we
have many fine people serving in the Illinois House and attempting
to move their issues, nothing gave them as much latitude and ability
to change the course of history as cumulative
Cumulative voting provided
proportional representation, a fairer way for the public to
participate. It could accommodate more women, ethnic and minority
legislators, independents and yes, even "characters" who march to
different drummers and dare to push the envelope with new ideas and
visions for Illinois.
A resolution in the Illinois House
would allow voters to decide whether Illinois should return to
cumulative voting. It is time to go back so as to go
Baar Topinka serves as Illinois State Treasurer. She is a