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 http://hamptonroads.com/2008/11/virginia-beachs-black-leaders-discuss-shift-voting-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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumulative_voting
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.