Cumulative Voting

June 20th, 2010

By Larry Ennis

With the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and along its shoreline, some other things are just slipping by.

Almost completely unheralded is the recent modifying of the way voting is being done in an increasing number of local elections, touted as a way to insure better representation of minorities. This voting practice ignores the traditional one person, one vote policy that has its roots in our very beginning. Labeled as “cumulative voting,” its purpose in its present form is to insure more minority representation in some districts.

The system is not new but has not been highly publicized. This system is used in business quite often when share holders are required to vote on stock issues. The cumulative voting style has gone from boardroom fights to determining the political power in many communities and cities in this nation. Apparently this voting method can allow one voter to cast more than one vote for a candidate.

Even though the cumulative system has decided elections in Alabama, Texas, and several other states, I’d never heard of it before this week. This unorthodox way of deciding elections has evidently not been widely used except in Illinois, where it was used from 1879 until 1980 to elect the state House of Representatives. The latest use came in Port Chester, New York. For some reason this particular election drew the attention of the media.

Not being familiar with the process, I researched it and found it to be, in my opinion, one of those written-to-confuse things used by liberal judges to satisfy the ACLU. The cumulative system is claimed to satisfy the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. The fact that newspapers such as the Washington Post have devoted space to this cumulative voting usage after never mentioning it makes me wonder.

Should we expect this form of voting to become more the norm? If this were true, am I right in thinking this is just another version of the liberal minority over majority ruse? Could it withstand Supreme Court scrutiny?

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13 Responses to “Cumulative Voting”

  1. Tom Carter |

    I’m not sure how much research went into this, but more was clearly needed. Cumulative voting, or weighted voting, has been around for a long time. It’s intended to ensure more proportional representation, not necessarily more frequent election of minorities.

    In the Port Chester case, the population was half Hispanic, but a Hispanic had never been elected as a trustee. Now there is one because of this voting method. I suppose you see something evil in that fact.

    One person, one vote does not have “its roots in our very beginning.” In the beginning, in order to vote one had to be white, male, and a property owner. It took over 150 years to reach one person, one vote culminating in a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s.

    It’s kind of unlikely that this is all a conspiracy by liberal judges to please the ACLU. Cumulative voting was around for a long time before there was an ACLU, which dates from 1920.

    Every voter gets the same number of votes to cast for the candidate(s) of his/her choice. There’s nothing unfair about that, and it doesn’t violate the Constitution. Aside from a vague question like “Could it withstand Supreme Court Scrutiny?”, do you have a rationale (reasons) for why it might not?

  2. Dan Miller |

    I have seen some “news” reports to the effect that the cumulative voting method gives Hispanics more votes. That’s true and it does, just like it gives everyone else more votes, something oddly not mentioned in some of the reports.

    As I understand it, I see nothing discriminatory or otherwise wrong with the method. According to the linked Washington Post article,

    Although the village of about 30,000 residents is nearly half Hispanic, no Latino had ever been elected to any of the six trustee seats. Most voters were white, and white candidates always won.

    The article does not state what percentage of the registered voters are Hispanic, but does note that the overall turnout of about 31% was “slightly higher” than usual.” The election needs a bit of analysis to determine what happened and why, and that is underway. My initial impression is that the intensive voter education program undertaken by Port Chester — at a cost of about $100.00 per voter — may well have had something to to with it.

  3. larry ennis |

    I mentioned that cumulative voting wasn’t new as a practice but neither is it a method known to a vast number of the American voters. As usual your quick to chastise based solely your preception of my inability to grasp even one iota of whats good and pure. I foolishly thought my questions were proper and intelligent.
    I don’t really care how many Hispanics get elected. I do want the system be fair to all of us.

  4. Brianna |

    I’ve never heard of it. It is bizarre. Besides, if you have to change the rules to get the objective you want, maybe that thing shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

    “One person, one vote does not have “its roots in our very beginning.” In the beginning, in order to vote one had to be white, male, and a property owner.”

    Yeah, but I don’t think you can point to any system that let those who were legal to vote do so more than once. There’s a difference between excluding people and letting them vote twice.

    If it weren’t being done in order to foster “proportional representation” for minority communities and had been done solely because people thought it was a fairer way to choose, it wouldn’t bother me nearly as much. I do not believe in group rights or that you should tamper with systems solely to get more “diverse” results. I also think it is awful that such practices automatically assume that the Hispanics in question automatically want an Hispanic to represent them solely for reasons of race.

  5. Dan Miller |

    Brianna, you say,

    I also think it is awful that such practices automatically assume that the Hispanics in question automatically want an Hispanic to represent them solely for reasons of race.

    I agree; assumptions are not good. The results are apparently being analyzed and we will see what happened.

    The point often missed in some “news” reports was that all voters get to vote multiple times, not just Hispanics, so if there are six positions to fill each voter gets six votes to aggregate or divide as he wishes. It’s similar to cumulative voting for shareholders in corporate elections, which is quite common and (to the limited extent that shareholders bother to vote at all) has worked pretty well.

  6. d |

    It is absurd,Larry,I agree this does not seem right. As Brianna pointed out,maybe the Hispanic running is not who the Hispanics want elected,maybe he is an unethical,crook and no one wanted him elected. This is a ridiculous assumption,and you know what assume does:makes an ass out of you and me. Who could possibly assume, for all of any race, that they want a person of their race,simply on those grounds. If they are half hispanic,and they don’t care enough to vote,maybe those who do care enough to vote,should get their guy elected,isn’t that the way it is supposed to be? I guess I am confused as to the art of voting,thought you wwere supposed to be able to vote to decide who wins,not just be of the ethnicity that makes up the larger proportion of the constituents.

  7. Brianna |

    “The point often missed in some “news” reports was that all voters get to vote multiple times, not just Hispanics,”

    No, I figured that. I still don’t like it though.

  8. Tom Carter |

    There are all kinds of voting systems; you can read a summary here. A variety of systems have been used in the U.S. at different levels, and systems not familiar to Americans are routinely used in other countries.

    I agree with the discomfort some feel with the idea that voters get to cast more than one vote in some voting systems, and I prefer the idea of having one clear-cut winner. However, we shouldn’t forget that there’s some weirdness in U.S. voting systems, past and present. For example, severely restricted suffrage in the early years, winners becoming president and runners-up becoming vice president, senators appointed by legislatures in various schemes, and even today the electoral college is still used to elect presidents. Even though cumulative voting may come as a shock to those who didn’t waste years of their time studying politics, government, and law, it isn’t that unusual.

    Contrary to what’s said or implied in the article, it isn’t unfair, it isn’t that unusual, and it isn’t unconstitutional. And above all, it certainly isn’t part of yet another vague, frightening (to some) conspiracy.

  9. Brianna |

    “For example, severely restricted suffrage in the early years, ”

    Which has been fixed.

    “winners becoming president and runners-up becoming vice president, ”

    Valid reasons could be cited to justify it, but I always felt sorry for the VP in such a scenario. The current method has different advantages and disadvantages.

    “senators appointed by legislatures in various schemes”

    There was a very valid reason for that. The senators were seen as the states’ delegates to the federal government, and the representatives were the people’s delegates.

    “and even today the electoral college is still used to elect presidents.”

    More mixed on this, but still support it. Besides, not only do most electoral college delegates vote with their constituenties anyway, but you can count the number of times the electoral and popular votes have diverged on one hand.

    The main issue with the voting scheme detailed here is not that it is a grossly unfair method per se, but that it was instituted in order to give a minority group “proportional representation.” Since this ties in with the idea of group rights, the idea that different classes of people have rights as a group unrelated to their rights as individual citizens, that is where I feel the real danger signal is.

  10. Dan Miller |

    Tom, I too “prefer the idea of having one clear-cut winner.” However, in the Port Chester situation there were six vacancies to fill and six candidates won; there appears to have been “one clear-cut winner” for each position.

    I think that cumulative voting would be silly in a context with one position to fill, and I don’t understand how it might work. While possible, it would also be quite odd to have cumulative voting with more votes per voter than positions to fill, even though in that circumstance there might well be one clear-cut winner for each position.

    It’s possibly worth noting that the alternatives to cumulative voting — such as multiple gerrymandered districts — were seen as less desirable than cumulative voting, which emerged as a solution suggested by Port Chester and apparently accepted by all parties to the case.

    The standard remedy was to break a municipality into districts, with one district including many from the minority, thereby increasing the chances for a candidate backed by the minority group. The Justice Department proposed that solution for Port Chester.

    But the village of about 30,000 objected to districts. It suggested instead a system called cumulative voting. All six trustees would be elected at once and the voters could apportion their six votes as they wished – all six to one candidate, one each to six candidates or any combination.

    The cumulative voting solution strikes me as having been better than any other viable alternative, and I think it fortunate that the judge adopted the proposal advanced by Port Chester.

  11. larry ennis |

    [Even though cumulative voting may come as a shock to those who didn’t waste years of their time studying politics, government, and law, it isn’t that unusual]
    I’ve spent a great deal of time studying American political affairs in a historical context. Cumulative voting is evidently a well kept secret. My reservations centered around the thought of how easy this could be used to insure a desired vote outcome in an election. I can’t think of any possible reason why someone would desire such a thing.

  12. d |

    Me neither,Larry,I am with you all the way on this one. I really don’t see the point,because I have not wasted my life studying politics or government,as you can tell. To me,it just does not make good sense,one vote,one person,isn’t that the way it was intended? Don’t people go to jail who vote more than once,but all rules are made to be broken,just ask the government.

  13. Kevin |

    Perhaps this reveals my conservative roots but since I first heard about this most recent example a week or so ago I’ve been strongly against it. That might surprise some here who probably view me as predictably toeing a progressive line.

    That said… my intention when I opened the comments here was to voice disagreement with this whole cumulative voting concept. But then I read Tom’s comment at the top and found it very persuasive. So much so that I am compelled to agree that it’s not what it’s been made out to be and that it’s not an automatic violation of our governing principles, as I had thought up until literally just a few minutes ago.

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