Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cumulative Voting

There is a system out there called cumulative voting that has been brought to the attention of the charter review committee. I am still studying it, but want to get your reactions before giving you my thoughts. More information is available here. One of the committee members submitted this paper(updated 7/25/2007) on why he thinks we should consider it. One issue is how this would be done on voting machines such as ours. I'm sure it can be, I just don't know the difficulties involved with the programming and testing.

You will likely hear more about this in the future. Some cities, such as Amarillo, are already using this instead of the traditional Single Member District method of selecting elected officials.

Please give us your feedback either here or by e-mail.


  1. Hi, JWT. I'm Jack, and I work at FairVote, whose stuff on CV you cited.

    Good to hear you're considering cumulative voting. While we like choice voting best, cumulative voting is a good system with demonstrated performance.

    In regard to the questions you posed, what kind of voting equipment do you use? What is the design of the ballot? Would the elections coincide with other elections run under different systems?

    Feel free to contact me:

  2. Thanks for your feedback Jack.

    We are using the Hart eSlate and eScan equipment here. The eScan is a DRE type machine, while the eScan scans paper ballots. Ballot design will have to be looked at within the limitations of this equipment.

    The city council elections are in May, one of the two standard election days allowed in Texas. These elections would not be stand alone. There could be school board elections, bond elections, etc. happening at the same time.

    Under Texas law, the local school board has the option to go to cumulative voting. They are currently using single member districts with one at large member.

  3. While I can see that some of the benefits touted in Greg Gossetts report COULD pan out, it seems that in our cultural arrangement this configuration is being eyed for the potential it holds to streamline operations for the city (and it's stake holders) as a business entity in itself, rather than as a represenative body of governance.

    Unless the racial minority -and even more so, the middle class- become more involved in elections and local affairs, I think they would see even less representation than they are currently under single member districting, with the majority of the representation from a cumulate race going to an elite minority, which could often take the form of the city represenatives themselves, while while at other times, their affluent constituents.

    Some may argue that this is essentially the scenario we are given with single member districts, but I think it would become even more exaggerated in a cumulative voting scenario in our community.

    Ideally cummulative voting would be fine, but I'm not quite convinced that San Angelo has been purged enough of it's good old boy system of management, so much as there is a new set of good old boys moving in.

    I am a little bit suprised at the lack of commentary on the subject from the usually vociferous primary bloggers for this sight, as they are both on the charter review board. I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention but I don't recall hearing about this until reading about it in the Standard Times today.

    I would be interested to know how the charter review committee came to coalesce and who else is on it.

  4. Okay charter review commission members, I know your votes have already been cast, but maybe I could get some input from you on these two things even though it's after the fact...

    First: Jim and Jim, do you not see this cumulative voting scenario having a great potential to reduce accountability in the city council?
    What specifically allayed any concern in this area?

    What about the threshold of exclusion test? Did you talk about it? Can you tell us about it?

  5. Hi Allie,

    I will address your accountability issue first. Look at the last city council election. Of the three seats up for vote, only one had an opponent. The rest were safe. How many local elected officials were elected unopposed or have been unopposed since taking office? When was the last time there was an opposition candidate for a school board trustee?

    Under cumulative voting as proposed, there are no safe seats. If there are 7 or more candidates running for the six council seats, they all have to campaign. No candidate can set back and take their seat for granted.

  6. On the issue of the threshold of exclusion test, the impact of cumulative voting on minority voters was discussed extensively,
    but I don't remember the test being mentioned by name. It is covered extensively in this document by Micheal Lewyn that was e-mailed to all committee members, and this document was referenced during the meetings.

    I will be posting more reference links soon.

  7. Jim i don't think the race issue is so much an issue these days so much as socio-economic class. I know not every district is even divided in these terms, but I think there are advantages to geographic areas having personalized representation. With cumulative voting we could theoreticly have all of our council members living in Bentwood. Yes, and i suppose "theoretically" all from the barrio - but which is a more likely scenario in our community?

    I am concerned that without a specific body of the population holding a specific member accountable, accountability over all is diminished in the council. If someone has a specific issue in their neighborhood they have no person to appeal to - no one they know or elected. Representation is relegated to "the city council body," - for most people, a panel of unfamiliar faces. When somebody has an issue, even if they didn't vote for anyone on the council, with districts, they can find their represenative and talk to them, have lunch, or invite them to their home, to discuss that issue that is relevant to their neighborhood. No such representation exists in the scenario you have recommended scenario, representation becomes less personalized and the city begins to represent its intrests more than serving the citizens.

    I also think it is totally ridiculous that the mayor was quoted in the paper yesterday as saying this was a "surprise" to him. He told me personally before over a year ago that he thought a charter review was necessary, and this was one of the reasons. He also appointed Greg Gossett, who very clearly has been pushing for a cumulative voting system for years. This is not suggesting "black ops" or "conspiracies" as some might suggest, but a mere statement of fact and a matter of honesty.

  8. Mindy Ward had given me a copy of the David Mendez back in 2003. I considered the threshold of exclusion test in the proposal for cumulative voting. This is the reason I suggested switching from 3 seats up every year to all 6 seats at the same time every year. As Mendez stated: "The larger the number of seats up for election, the smaller the percentage of votes needed by a group of voters to elect their candidate of choice under the cumulative voting system."

    One other point: the law firm of David Mendez has made considerable money in coming to San Angelo to advise the city and school on redistricting. They have a vested interested in keeping a single member district system; otherwise they lose a very lucative account.

    Also as to Allie's concern that cumulative voting might reduce accountability on the city council, I see it as the opposite. Under the cumulative voting system each council member is accountable to the entire city, not just their district.