Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is Cumulative Voting An Alternative?

Today's Virginian-Pravda brings us the story on how Virginia Beach's African-American community leaders are discussing the need to change our City Council electoral system While a change is needed, what next?

An alternative system is cumulative voting. Cumulative voting is a neo-proportional system in which multiple votes are cast across the field or stacked on a single candidate. Here's the Wikipedia article on it

A cumulative system in Virginia Beach would mean 5 Council seats up every two years. All candidates would run in a single field, with the residency districts eliminated. Voters would have 5 votes (or points) to cast across the field in whatever manner wished. The top five finishing candidates would win Council seats.

Why cumulative? First, none of the publicly stated reasons for opposing a ward system apply to it. You would still vote for everyone, have to see the City as a whole, there are no districts that could become fiefdoms, etc. Second, it's harder to go negative in campaigning when it's everyone against everyone. Third, the neo-proportional nature would provide for a more diverse Council (in more ways than one).

In the case of the African-American community, African-Americans make up 26% of Virginia Beach voters. If the majority of the community can rally behind a single candidate, that candidate should be able to win a seat. In addition, any other group that can cross the effective 20% threshold could be seated. (Note the Wikipedia article even uses a 5 seat example.)

While my personal preference is for a ward system, I've long pushed cumulative voting as a possible alternative. With electoral reform on the front burner, I thought I'd toss cumulative out to get it on the table.


Unknown said...

Keep figuring a way to change the system until you get the result you want, eh?

One problem with your system is the lack of specific contests. I don't like that about Chesapeake elections. Voters should have a choice, seat by seat. Let people compete and let the voters choose. Everyone in one field is a recipe for single-shots, slating, and basically no issues being debated. How is anyone accountable if they didn't defeat anyone?

What always puzzled me is this, Henry. You assume African-American voters will support African-American candidates. Even now, you're citing percentages.

Isn't that racist?

If someone posted what percentage of voters are white, and opined that all the white voters would vote for the white candidate, would that be racist, too?

I'd love to know your answer to both of those.

Anonymous said...

"Is Cumulative Voting An Alternative? My answer: No.

I have to agree with Brian. They lost get over it. Stop trying to change the rules for next time and just put up some great minority candidates. History has shown VB will elect minority candidates who are qualified for city council and school board seats. Frankly, just because there are minority or female candidates for city council is not a reason for anyone to vote for them. I'll vote for and support the best person: no matter if it’s R or D, black or white, male or female. PE Obama won because he was the best choice and not because he is a minority.

Like it or not, Diezel was the better of the three candidates in his field based on his experience not race or sex. Wilson was likewise the best in her At-large field. Making excuses and trying to change the rules isn't going to result in better candidates or council members... History has shown that minorities can win in VB. There are strong minority candidates out there but the challenge is to get them to run. That challenge is the same one we all face when election season rolls around year after year. Who would really want to play that game? Not many folks (minority or not) are willing to take that challenge.

BTW: I still support a ward system but not specifically for minority candidates. I support the ward system to bring in better candidates of any race or sex who might be willing to run in a smaller area than citywide. Citywide seats should be the at-large and mayor seats.

Avenging Archangel said...


There is accountability in that a Councilman can be voted out at the next election.

The percentage I cited was to show that a cumulative strategy like cited in the Wikipedia article was possible. Note in the 5th paragraph I never put all votes on a single candidate. No, its about appealing within the community, not about voting patterns.

Unknown said...

Henry, did you not read my questions?

I'm not surprised you dodged them. Tell can you "vote out" an incumbent when there's a field of a dozen other folks to divide the vote?

Besides, Bill's right. Shouldn't the point be for candidates to have broad enough support to win, not shrink the system so that someone without broad support can also win?

Avenging Archangel said...


It may not have been the answer you wanted, but it addresses the point.

On voting out a Councilman:

1. He's on Council

2. He loses the election.

3. Therefore, he's voted off.

Anonymous said...

It has nothing to do with racial equally as much as it has to to with the constituency of district representation. Lines are drawn by politicians. If there is any racism injected into the results, it is that of special interest, wheter it by unions, political parties, etc. I restate ;my previous post on this subject.

It has to do with district accountability. Your duly elected "district representative" in fact is not a district representative other than a residential requirement. In actuality, all members are at-large. Hence, your leverage over your "district representative's" accountability is diluted ten-fold. In other words, there is no district accountability!
Moreover, the eventual makeup of council is not reflective of the individual districts. Ergo, the inequalities of city-delivered services is directly proportional to the socioeconomic composition of the neighborhoods that form the district.

Anonymous said...

Wally: Remember all it takes is six other council members to stop your district rep from successfully acomplishing anything.

Holding one person accountable when there are ten other council voters to out vote him/her seems wrong to me. With a smaller district, a person can get a seat on council yet it doesn't mean they will be successful in bringing home the bacon to their own district.

Anonymous said...

Why not go all the way and change campaign spending to no more than $1000 for each candidate. The outcome might be very interesting indeed.
Also before the City Council starts its discussions on sending the local election back to MAY why not get each one of them for Xmas a copy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Throw one on for the City Manager too. He is probably the only one that will read it.

Unknown said...

Anon, the Constitution would have something to say about your spending limit idea.

Read the Supreme Court's "Buckley" decision.

Anonymous said...

Re: Bill Bailey 2:51

Then the edict for a residential requirement for seven of the council seats is flawed?