We wanted to alert you to the following developments:
Alabama's Largest Paper Supportes Cumulative Voting
The Birmingham News -- by far Alabama's largest newspaper -- in August editorialized on behalf of cumulative voting to resolve a local voting rights case. Here is an excerpt from the editorial -- the full text is below.
"Several alternative voting plans have been proposed to deal with the shortcomings inevitable with district voting. One especially promising alternative is cumulative voting.
"A cumulative voting plan for Alabaster, for example, might have all council candidates running citywide. Voters would have seven votes and could split them anyway they want, including giving all to one candidate. The seven candidates with the most votes win. In places where it has been tried, cumulative voting has greatly improved the chances of minority candidates.
"Unfortunately, cumulative and other alternative voting plans have been mostly ignored in this state in favor of district voting. That's goofy. Why continue to rely on a flawed system to choose our leaders?"
Chicago Heights Ruling on Cumulative Voting
In July there finally was a ruling by the 7th circuit in the Chicago Heights, Illinois case in which federal district judge David Coar had imposed cumulative voting as a remedy for city council and park board elections. The panel threw out the park board case on liability. On the city council, however, it affirmed liability and remanded the remedy. The Court said supportive words about cumulative voting and made it clear that it was a legitimate option ?? but that it had been too hastily imposed, without enough evidence that a ward plan would not be sufficient.
Here is an excerpt from the opinion on cumulative voting, written by Judge Diane Wood on behalf of the 3?judge panel:
"We emphasize that our decision should not be understood as a condemnation of cumulative voting. Cumulative voting is, as the Illinois Municipal Code makes clear, a lawful election method that may be implemented under circumstances demonstrating suitable deference to the legislative body. It also has the virtues the district court identified. [QUOTING DISTRICT COURT: "Rather than using race as a proxy for voting preference, such a system allows voters to draw their own jurisdictional boundaries, decide which local governments were most important to them, and allocate their votes accordingly.... All minority groups may potentially benefit from such a system ?? not just racial minorities...."]"
The case now goes back to the district court -- 13 years it was first filed.
St.Petersburg Times column on Cumulative Voting
Martin Dyckman, a long-time political columnist for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, has written several columns on voting system reform. Below is an excerpt from a recent one in favor of cumulative voting, followed by the full text below
"Considering all the ideas Florida has been borrowing from Texas lately, it's sad that one of the best has gone begging here. Ot there, some 50 communities have turned to cumulative voting to increase minority representation on school boards. It's working. We need to pack some Florida pols on a bus and send them to Texas...."
CVD Reports on Redistricting and Runoff Elections
I would welcome your feedback on two new reports that we have posted on our web site.
Full Text of Commentaries
Birmingham News, August 31, 2000
"Disfranchised Voters: Alabaster shows need for alternative voting method"
There are two, conflicting ways to look at the turmoil resulting in some Alabaster residents' votes not being counted in the recent City Council election. And both views are right.
Such a contradiction indicates the flaws of electing council members ? as well as county commissioners, school board members, etc. ? by racially drawn wards or districts. It's past time our political leaders ? black and white, Republican and Democratic ? took a serious look at voting plans that don't handicap minorities or the majority and aren't dependent on single?member districts.
Alabaster's situation, an offshoot of its growth, is unusual, but problems with voting districts are not. Plus, other cities can count on facing similar problems.
Alabaster was one of hundreds of cities, county commissions and school boards throughout the South that switched to electing members by districts or wards during the 1980s after minority groups that had been locked out of elected office sued to improve their chances at the ballot box. Districts were drawn lumping black voters together to create majority black districts, some requiring a good bit of gerrymandering.
In Alabaster, the result was seven council wards, with one of them ? Ward 1 ? majority black. As expected, a black won that council seat. But when the city annexed into the ward a new subdivision that attracted mostly white voters, a ward that was 68 percent black became majority white.
City officials compounded the problem by not getting required U.S. Justice Department approval before altering the city's voting wards through annexations. When they did seek Justice's OK just before this summer's city election, the feds came to the undemocratic conclusion that some 200 annexed Ward 1 residents could vote for mayor but not City Council.
So Alabaster officials said they could vote, but their votes for council wouldn't count. Incumbent black Councilman Bobby Harris won over white challenger Todd Goode by 39 votes.
As expected, disfranchised whites sued. They argue that 99 votes cast for Goode but uncounted would make him the winner. Not allowing their votes to count discriminates against them, they say.
But so is Harris, who says annexing the upscale subdivision into his district significantly changed its makeup so that it is unlikely a black can win the council seat.
It's regrettable that an important exercise in democracy has soured to the point that otherwise qualified voters are denied their right to vote.
Several alternative voting plans have been proposed to deal with the shortcomings inevitable with district voting. One especially promising alternative is cumulative voting.
A cumulative voting plan for Alabaster, for example, might have all council candidates running citywide. Voters would have seven votes and could split them anyway they want, including giving all to one candidate. The seven candidates with the most votes win. In places where it has been tried, cumulative voting has greatly improved the chances of minority candidates.
Unfortunately, cumulative and other alternative voting plans have been mostly ignored in this state in favor of district voting. That's goofy. Why continue to rely on a flawed system to choose our leaders?
St. Petersburg Times, published June 1, 2000 By Martin Dyckman
"Cumulative voting worth a try"
Considering all the ideas Florida has been borrowing from Texas lately, it's sad that one of the best has gone begging here.
Out there, some 50 communities have turned to cumulative voting to increase minority representation on school boards. It's working.
We need to pack some Florida pols on a bus and send them to Texas. Mention cumulative voting to our best and brightest, and their eyes glaze over as if you'd brought up quantum theory.
Amarillo, the latest progressive constituency in Texas, elected its first African?American and first Hispanic woman to the School Board last month. They did it in a citywide election that saw turnout increase to 12.7 percent from a dismal 3.4 percent two years earlier. (A police pension measure gets some of the credit.)
They did it without chopping the city into single?member districts resembling some extreme jigsaw puzzle. The winners will be thinking of the city as a whole rather than just their own neighborhoods.
Amarillo's reform came as the compromise to a lawsuit by civil rights groups seeking court?ordered single?member districts. Texas Gov. George W. Bush gave the idea a boost when he signed into law a 1995 bill allowing school districts to use cumulative voting without having to wait for courts to force it on them.
The May 6 election disproved predictions that voters would be baffled by the new system. With seven candidates contesting four seats, each voter had four votes to cast in any combination he or she chose. That could be four votes for one candidate, three votes for one and one for another, two votes for one and two for another, or one vote for each of four candidates. The only rule: no more than four votes.
While the black candidate, who had been appointed to a vacancy on the board, ran well citywide, the Amarillo Globe?News noted that he received more than twice as many votes as there were voters at one of the polling stations with a large minority representation. This showed that voters had caught on to how they could cast more than one vote for him.
"People seemed to understand," says John Kanelis, the newspaper's editorial page editor. "It was fairly self?explanatory. The voters elected four very solid candidates. . . . Two were incumbents and the two others were very fine, upstanding folks, very committed to the school system." Kanelis says the election also put to rest, at least for now, the concern that "some zealous special interest group" might work the system to get a foothold on the board. One of the incumbents had abstained from voting on the settlement for fear that such a thing would happen. It didn't, and she was re?elected.
Last I heard, Floridians and Texans weren't so different in orders of intelligence as to explain why they can be trusted with this sensible scheme and we can't. Our politicians can't be that much less enlightened, either.
The real reason, if you ask me, is that our pols are too sharp. They understand that if cumulative voting worked here for school boards, voters would ask the obvious question: Why not the Legislature? Lawmakers couldn't gerrymander themselves into safe single?member districts any longer. Everyone would be on the ballot, every time, and legislators who never worry themselves over minority votes would swiftly acquire a healthy new appreciation of the national motto e pluribus unum.
Single?member districts, which seemed like such a good idea 18 years ago, deserve much of the blame for how shortsighted and petty the Legislature has become. Even the new guys see it.
It's no coincidence, says Sen. Tom Lee, R?Brandon, that senators, who represent three times as many people as members of the House, weren't as gung?ho as the latter to take down growth management or pass the land?grab bill.
"You can elect someone in a House district who represents just seniors or just agricultural interests or just an environmentally oriented community," Lee noted last week. His 350,000 constituents, on the other hand, are a mix of agriculture, senior citizens, industry and "a lot of urbanizing and suburbanizing areas that are growing very fast. . . .
"You listen to a lot of different perspectives, and you find yourself trying to balance them out," said Lee, who had just returned from trying to explain the session's outcome to some unhappy folks at the Polk County Farm Bureau.
It's not just school boards in Texas but corporations all over the world that use cumulative voting to broaden representation on their boards. Must Florida forever be so far, far, behind?