SPRINGFIELD – Multimember district county boards, such as those in Champaign and Vermilion counties, could opt to elect members through cumulative voting, under a bill Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law late Wednesday.
Cumulative voting would allow county residents to cast all three of their votes for a single county board candidate, or spread their votes among two or three candidates.
"Since you already have two or three votes in one district, now you would have the ability to cast them any way you want to, which really should be a voter's right," said Dan Johnson-Weinberger, director of the Midwest Democracy Center. "The way we do it now, you get two or three votes, but you can't cast them all for one candidate."
Johnson-Weinberger, a 1997 graduate of the University of Illinois, is working to get cumulative voting for all levels of government, from school boards to the Illinois General Assembly, and even the state's congressional delegation. Cumulative voting for the Illinois House of Representatives was abolished in 1980, but it still exists in some local governments, such as the Peoria City Council.
"I think this is a huge step forward for people in the state who want a more representative government," Johnson-Weinberger said of the new law.
Cumulative voting might allow candidates from small hamlets in districts dominated by a larger city a better chance to win, and therefore represent the interests of their more rural constituents. It can also help candidates from the minority party in a district, because voters from that party can give them all three of their votes.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, sponsored the bill at the request of some of his McHenry County constituents, but it would apply to all counties that elect multiple members for each district.
Todd Lee, Chairman of the Vermilion County Board, said the board has not really discussed the new law, or whether cumulative voting is something it would want to adopt.
"I haven't given it much thought one way or the other, and I don't think the county board members have either," Lee said. "I think if members wanted us to take a look at it, or if we had an outcry from the public, we'd be more than happy to study it, but right now we are not at that point."
One reason may be that some Vermilion County Board districts already have members from both parties serving on the board, he said.
Lee, for instance, is a Democrat, but the other two board members from his district are Republicans.
Champaign County Board Chairwoman Patricia Avery said the board has not looked into cumulative voting.
"It might be something that we might look at, but we have not talked about it yet," she said.
The new law also allows voters to petition to put an advisory referendum on the ballot to indicate to the county board their level of support of cumulative voting, or to ask whether the board's makeup should be changed in terms of size or kinds of district.
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.