Return of Cumulative Voting in Illinois?

by John Parker // Published June 18, 2009

During the past legislative session in Illinois, Republican state senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora proposed a change to the Illinois constitution which would restore multi-member legislative districts for state representatives. Under Lauzen's plan, the Illinois state house would have 117 members from 39 districts. Currently, there are 118 members for 118 districts.

From 1870 to 1980, cumulative voting was used to elect members of the state House of Representatives. In 1980, political activist and now current governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, advocated a campaign to reduce the number of representatives in the state house through the "Cutback Amendment" which reduced the size of the house by one-third and proposed the single member district system. Quinn argued that by reducing the number of representatives, the costs of conducting the legislative session would be reduced. Quinn also felt that winner-take-all systems would lead to more competitive state races and make representatives more responsible for their constituents. However, by ending cumulative voting and initiating single member district systems, opponents argued that such changes allowed political party leaders to consolidate power and influence who may run for the state assembly.

Governor Quinn now believes that term limits of state representatives under the single member district system, as opposed to cumulative voting would be a more effective tool in legislating, keeping the costs of governing down . However, the fear of term limits is that many legislators are new and are not experienced enough to legislate in an efficient manner compared to their more experienced counterparts.

In other Illinois cumulative voting news, Democratic state house representative Jack D. Franks of Belvidere in Northern Illinois introduced legislation that would replace winner-take-all systems with cumulative voting systems for local elections to select vote for county commissioners. State representative Robert Rita of Oak Lawn outside of Chicago introduced legislation that would allow cumulative voting to elect commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in the Chicago area. Neither bill was put up for a vote before the entire state house before the end of the legislative session this past May. However, such proposed legislation should be an indicator to the citizens of Illinois that some members of the General Assembly are looking for a return to cumulative voting to replace the power play machine politics that plagues Illinois.