Successful cumulative voting election in Peoria

by Jack Santucci // Published April 18, 2007
Peoria, Illinois held its cumulative voting elections for City Council yesterday.

While cumulative voting rights aren't the optimal way to get proportional election results (take a look at choice voting), the system continues to work well in Peoria. African-Americans have had fairly consistent Council representation since the system took root in 1991, and political newcomers have been able to win seats too.

The highlight of this election was 24 year-old Ryan Spain, whose grassroots campaign saw him win his first public office. I suspect cumulative voting had something to do with that, but we'd have to look at actual ballots to tell.

Cumulative voting also stood up to some criticism. Spain's election shows that, even if racially polarized voting no longer exists in town (beyond the scope of this post), the system has not outlived all possible relevance. And concerns that all winners would come from the same ward did not play out.

Peoria has used cumulative voting since 1991. In 1987, residents sued the city over its winner-take-all, at-large elections. Rather than switch to districts, both sides compromised on this semi-proportional, at-large remedy. There are ten Council seats. Five are elected in districts, and five are elected at-large.

NOTE: Peoria actually uses the "equal and even" cumulative system, which is distinct from "free" cumulative voting used in Texas, New Mexico and other places. With "equal and even," voters pick as many candidates as they want, and their five votes are divided equally among those candidates. With "free" cumulative, voters can allocate those five votes in any combination they choose.