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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cumulative Voting Rights Experiment in New York past week a special election was held in the New York hamlet of Port Chester which featured the concept of cumulative voting.   See this Washington Post report.  This concept was most famously espoused -- to her professional detriment -- by law professor Lani Guinier when she was being considered for appointment by President Clinton to be Attorney General back in the pre-internet days of 1993.

In this election, each voter was allowed to cast six votes.   One could choose to cast one vote for up to six candidates, or concentrate all of his/her votes on some or just one candidate.

The objective by at least some proponents of cumulative voting was to have underrepresented groups -- here, Hispanics -- have the opportunity to concentrate (or pack) their votes behind one or more Hispanic candidates, assuming most other voters would vote conventionally (i.e., use their six votes for six candidates).  

The essence of voting rights is not and never should be the outcome.  It should be about a free, fair and equal choice by all voters.   I think cumulative voting adds an intriguing strategic concept and affords additional opportunities for ethnic groups or special interest groups to "pack" or target their support behind one candidate in order to gain a foothold within a larger legislative body.    This concept deserves further consideration.

Eric Dixon is an election lawyer in New York and participated in a special task force effort by the Election Law Committee of the New York City Bar to monitor the Port Chester, NY election.  Mr. Dixon's comments here are his own and do not represent the opinion of the Election Law Committee.   Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post, Eric. An exciting election, with a sharp uptick in voter turnout. Glad you could be part of it.

    As to Lani Guinier, she's doing well -- tenured professor of law at Havard. One can safely support cumulative voting!