University of Illinois

Institute of Government and Public Affairs
Illinois should return to cumulative voting;
Illinois Assembly report calls for 3-member house districts
By Scott Koeneman
July 9, 2001

In recent decades, competition for Illinois House seats has declined, with only 50 percent of Illinois House races being competitive in the 2000 election. Voting in Illinois legislative elections has also declined, while the cost of campaigning for Illinois legislative elections has skyrocketed, reaching more than $1 million in some races. At the same time, the four legislative leaders have grown steadily more powerful. Just over 20 years ago, the "cutback amendment" changed the method of electing representatives to the Illinois House from cumulative voting to single-member districts. A bipartisan group of Illinois leaders led by former Governor Jim Edgar and former federal Judge Abner Mikva says it is time to change back.

 The final report of the Illinois Assembly on Political Representation and Alternative Electoral Systems, released today, summarizes a detailed review by assembly participants of problems facing Illinois' current electoral system and their examination of alternative methods used around the world. It also includes their proclamation calling for a return to cumulative voting.

Under cumulative voting in Illinois, voters elect three representatives from each district. They can vote for three candidates, give two candidates 1.5 votes each, or cast a "bullet" ballot by giving all three votes to one candidate. This method has proven to increase representation for members of the minority party (Republicans in Chicago and Democrats in the suburbs, for instance) and is believed to increase representation for other minority groups.

"Cumulative voting uniquely reflected our pluralism," said Judge Mikva, who was elected to the Illinois House under the system. "It gave everybody a voice in Springfield and we need that again."

In its proclamation, the assembly said it "recognizes that changing an electoral system is itself not capable of fully addressing all of the assembly's goals and concerns. Nonetheless, a majority of the assembly finds that cumulative voting in multi-member districts would be preferable at this time to single-member districts for electing members to the Illinois House."

The proclamation states that, compared with plurality voting, cumulative voting tends to:

Offer greater choice for voters in primary and general elections

Provide prospective candidates easier access to the electoral system

Provide greater representation for the minority political party in districts dominated by one party

Provide individual legislators with greater independence from legislative leaders

Generate richer deliberations and statewide consensus among all legislators since both parties would be represented in all parts of the state

Be more readily adaptable to the existing electoral machinery than instant-run-off and party-list voting.

The assembly was the result of work by the Task Force on Political Representation and Alternative Electoral Systems, co-chaired by former Governor Edgar and former federal Judge Mikva. The task force examined the effects of the change from cumulative to plurality voting in Illinois, gathered information about alternative systems and considered how well those systems would work in Illinois.

With that information in hand, the task force brought together leaders from politics, the media, academe, business, and non-profit organizations (see attached list of participants). The assembly met over two days in Chicago, examining and discussing the information presented by the task force. Their final report was released today and is available on the Institute of Government and Public Affairs web site at www.igpa.uillinois.edu. It may also be obtained by contacting the institute.

"It is my hope," said Gov. Edgar, "that this report will stir debate among all segments of the public on just what is the best system for electing their representatives."

The work of the task force, assembly and the production of this report was supported by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs and funded by the Joyce Foundation.