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Cumulative Voting in Illinois 

In 2000-2001, a blue-ribbon panel, sponsored by the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, looked into returning to the use of cumulative voting to elect members of the Illinois House of Representatives rather than continue to use winner-take-all elections. Led by former Democratic Congressman Abner Mikva and former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, the 70-member task force of politicians, academics and government watchdogs concluded that Illinois should restore cumulative voting as a key component of political reform in the Land of Lincoln. The panel concluded that compared to plurality voting, cumulative voting tends to:

  • offer a greater choice for voters in primary and in general elections. For example, half of all the races for the Illinois House of Representatives were uncontested in 2000. This means that voters had no choice.

  • provide prospective candidates easier access to the electoral system

  • provide greater representation for the minority political party in districts dominated by the other party. Winner-take-all electoral systems produce a single winner from each district. This leaves no representation for the minority group in the district.

  • provide individual legislators 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 other alternative systems such as instant run-off and party-list voting.

Background on Cumulative Voting: From 1870 to 1980, the Illinois House of Representatives was elected from three-seat districts with cumulative voting. Instituted as a way to relieve the political polarization caused by the Civil War, the system resulted in a much less divided and more productive legislature and strong representation of African Americans. The system was repealed in a ballot measure focused on dramatically cutting back the size of the legislature.

Cumulative voting allows voters to distribute votes equal to the number of seats in any fashion they choose. For example, in a three seat legislative district, a voter could cast one vote for each of three different candidates, but instead might opt to cast all three votes for their favorite candidate. This process of ���plumping��� more than one vote for a certain candidate is what enables cumulative voting to win minority representation. Cumulative voting is used to elect the city council in Peoria (IL), the school board in Amarillo (TX) and more than sixty additional local elections in the United States.

Cumulative voting is one of several systems of ���full representation��� ��� meaning electoral systems that promote full representation of the electorate rather than the partial representation typical of winner-take-all elections. Other systems are choice voting (a particularly effective system that is used in several nations and in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts) and the one-vote system (as used in several localities in Alabama, Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania).

Additional Information:

For more information contact:
The Center for Voting and Democracy 6930 Carroll Ave
Takoma Park, MD 20912

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Copyright �� 2003     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave, Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]