The Galesburg Zephyr
In My Opinion
The drive to revive
by Caroline Porter
June 6, 2001
Anyone tired of
uncompetitive Illinois State Representative elections? Gerrymandered
districts? Lack of minority political representation? Rancor,
partisanship and regionalism in the State House? In my column of
September 1999, I said that only 60 out of 118 State Representatives
were contested in the 1998 general election. Those who did have
competition won by an average of 66 percent of the vote. Since the
end of proportional representation, or cumulative voting, in1982,
the House and House candidates have been tightly controlled by two
political party leaders and their campaign war chests.
Gerrymandering at its worst is illustrated in Henry
County, where there are four State Representative districts, with
Republicans carefully carving out Democrat strongholds in the
Northeast corner and dividing the town of Kewanee in half. Democrats
would no doubt do the same if given the opportunity.
This wasn't always the case. When Illinois used
cumulative voting to elect its House of Representatives, elections
were significantly more competitive and citizens had a reason to be
politically active. From 1972 to 1980, voters faced a non-contested
ballot less than 5 percent of the time. The 1980 cutback amendment
put an end to cumulative voting, taking with it fair and competitive
elections, high voter turnout and the opportunity to elect political
minorities like Chicago Republicans, Knox County Democrats and
independent candidates. Cumulative voting was first proposed in 1870
by Joseph Medill, Republican editor of the Chicago Tribune, as a way
to bring the heavily divided state back together after the Civil War
by ensuring that both parties were represented everywhere in the
Cumulative voting was used from 1870 to 1980, and
House districts each had three representatives. Each voter had three
votes which they could distribute among up to three candidates or
give to one candidate. To win one of the three seats, a candidate
only needed a third of the vote to get elected.
The low threshold for victory makes it possible for
independent candidates from both parties to get elected. Under this
system, Illinois became known for producing independent- minded
leaders like Paul Simon and Abner Mikva. In Knox County, we usually
elected two Republicans and one Democrat, but at least those of us
in the minority party were represented.
Okay, folks, it's time to stop complaining and take
action. Legislators from both parties are sponsoring a
Constitutional Amendment (HJRCA-4) which will allow voters to decide
if Illinois should go back to cumulative voting, with three member
districts. The amendment will not increase the size of the Illinois
House, but will create 39 three-member districts. This would result
in 117 members, an odd number in case of a close vote.
What can you do? Write your State Representative and
State Senator and let them know how you feel. Only a barrage of
support will make them take notice. In this area write to State
Representative Donald Moffitt, 5 Weinberg Arcade, Galesburg, IL
61401 or State Senator Carl Hawkinson, 4 Weinberg Arcade, Galesburg,
IL 61401. If you want e-mail addresses or FAX numbers, call their
offices or check the internet.
The organization behind this movement is the Midwest
Democracy Center, [email protected] Their phone number is (312) 587-7060. The
co-chairs of the board are John Anderson, former Republican
Congressman and Independent candidate for President and Abner Mikva,
former Democratic Congressman and retired Federal Judge.
If you want to be heard, you have to say something.
Now is the time.
Caroline Porter is a
freelance writer from Galesburg who last month won two first place
and two second place awards from the Illinois Woman's Press
Association for columns and editorials in The Zephyr. She can be
reached at [email protected] or