UIC poll explores voter participation,
by Dirk C. Archer
"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
"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
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
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.