By Kristen Schmidt
February 21, 2003
WOODSTOCK A bill that would allow voters to advise the
McHenry County Board on district makeup, board size and voting methods
passed the Statehouse on Thursday.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jack Franks, could be heard
on the Senate floor next week. The measure has rankled some McHenry
County Republicans, who say the bill resurrects an antiquated form
of voting and could hurt rural-community representation.
If the bill becomes law, residents of counties where each
district is represented by more than one person could place an advisory
referendum on the ballot asking any of these questions:
* How many people should sit on the county board?
* Should they be elected in single-member, multimember or
* Should voters be allowed to choose county board members
through cumulative voting?
With cumulative voting, the voter
can divide votes between candidates as desired, potentially giving
all four votes to the same candidate.
The bill does not let residents create a binding, or
policy-changing, referendum. But it does empower voters to change the
system, Franks said.
"This will let people in smaller towns have their voices be
heard,"Franks said. "It's giving another option. It's not a mandate.
It's always better to give people the option for
The referendums would be strong signals to county government,
"Let the people decide how and what form of government they
want, as opposed to it being dictated to them," he said.
Illinois voters elected the state Legislature using cumulative
voting from 1870 until 1980. More recently, cumulative voting
has been imposed in voting-rights cases for city council elections
in Peoria and in other cities and counties across the country.
Some voting-rights scholars have said cumulative voting is a
way for a community to achieve fair minority representation, according
to the Center for Voting and Democracy.
If four candidates run for office in a four-member district, a
voter can vote once for each candidate or not use votes.
Others say a cumulative-voting ballot confuses the voter and
that the system is outdated and served out its purpose decades ago.
"It didn't work then, and it won't work now. People voted 30
years ago to get rid of this," county board Chairman Michael Tryon
said Thursday. "I personally think voters in this county would
soundly reject that."
The county has not divided into single-member districts because
that could threaten rural areas' representation on the board, Tryon
Franks denied the bill is partisan, pointing out Republican
support. But McHenry County Republicans say the measure is a way for the
Democratic minority to unfairly occupy seats on the county
board. All 24 members of the McHenry County Board are Republicans.
"Voters in this county take their vote very seriously. If you
have a voting system that works, don't mess with it. We all hold that
very, very, very close to our hearts," Tryon