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Northwest Leader

UIC poll explores voter participation, election standards
by Dirk C. Archer
July 11, 2001

"Many Illinois citizens were apparently alarmed by what happened in Florida," said Paul J. Quirk. Quirk, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, helped conduct a recent Public Opinion and Public Policy Poll sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. "Even more may become alarmed when they realize that about one in 25 voters failed to register a (valid) vote for president."

In the aftermath of the bitter controversy surrounding the results of the presidential election of Florida, the researchers involved in the Public Policy Poll interviewed 507 Illinois adults between December 5 and December 21.

Among the Poll's major finding were that Illinoisans felt that the federal government should "set national standards for voting", by a margin of 67 percent to 26 percent. Democrats were more eager for reform than Republicans, and residents of Chicago were on average more enthusiastic about the subject than those living in Chicago's suburbs or downstate.

"Most (of our citizens) are willing to support drastic measures to improve the accuracy and reliability of (the electoral process)," said Quirk.

Ninety-three percent said they had followed the Florida election controversy closely.

This sounds like good news, but according to Samuel K. Gove, a professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois, "Participation in elections has been going down." Gove has been observing, studying and participating in local government in Illinois since 1949.

"Recent changes seen as reforms, have yet to show improved voter turnout," said Gove.

The professor is one among many who have been asking some serious questions about our election process recently. Is our current system the best one for providing representation of minority views, parties and populations? Does it ensure competitive elections? Does it encourage voter turnout?

One answer gaining popularity here in Illinois is a return to Cumulative Voting. Used in Illinois from 1870 to 1980, the Cumulative voting system allowed voters in each state legislative district to elect one senator and three representatives. Voters could give an individual House candidate three votes, could split their three votes between two candidates, or could give three candidates one vote each. The top three vote recipients were elected. This system, supposedly, often allowed minority party candidates- Republicans inside Chicago, and Democrats in the suburbs- to get themselves elected.

"The single-district system gives party organizations rather than voters the power to determine election outcomes," said Dan Johnson-Weinberger of the Midwest Democracy Center (MDC), which supports the proposed change. According to an MDC report, over half the state's representatives faced no opposition in last year's general election, and three fourth's of those candidates faced no primary opposition either.

The MDC is not alone.

Recently, the Illinois Assembly on Political Representation and Alternative Electoral Systems ­led by former governor Jim Edgar and for White House Counsel and appellate judge Abner Mikva, met with the support of the IGPA. The group spent October third and fourth discussing various alternative voting methods and whether any of those methods would improve our state's harried political system.

By more than a two-to-one margin, participants in the assembly said that they believed that using cumulative voting to elect members of the Illinois House would be a "significant first step in a process of reform." Members of the group contend that representatives elected under the cumulative voting system were, generally, less dependent on substantial financial support from the State House and Senate leadership and were able to work far more independently.

"The assembly found that the (cumulative) system increased voters' choices as well as representative's independence," said Scott Koeneman, communications director of the IGPA.

A return to a system abandoned twenty years ago might provide greater access to the political process, increase choices for voters, give individual legislators greater independence nad improve representation of political and ethnic minorities.

The IGPA will release its final report on the Assembly July 11.

Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) has introduced constitutional Amendment 4 (HJRCA 4). It would revive the cumulative voting system in Illinois and decrease the size of the State House from 118 to 117 members.

On May 22, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia) introduced HR-1189, the Voter's Choice Act. The bill would allow states to have multi-seat House districts (as was legal before 1967) if using a proportional voting system- such as the cumulative system.

To learn more about the IGPA, visit their website at www.igpa.uiuc.edu. For more information about the MDC, visit them at www.midwestdemocracy.org. And for additional information on the Cumulative Voting drive gearing up for 2002, visit the Illinois Citizens for Proportional Representation at www.prairenet.org/icpr.

 
 
 
 
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