Fw: Eric Olson's commentary in Washington Post
----- Original Message -----
From: "Rob Richie" <fairvote@...>
To: "Full Rep Activists (Lst)" <full-representation@...>
Sent: Sunday, October 21, 2001 2:09 AM
Subject: Eric Olson's commentary in Washington Post
This commentary is part of a significant push for this idea in
Maryland - narrowly focused on primaries for political reasons,
but creating opportunities to raise PR for a range ofther elections.
Washington Post "Close to Home"
October 21, 2001
"Empowering Political Minorities"
Sunday, October 21, 2001; Page B08
In Montgomery County African Americans, Asian Americans and other racial
minorities make up 40 percent of the population, but 35 of the county's 36
state legislators are white. No African Americans or Latinos represent
Montgomery County in Annapolis. Something is wrong with this picture, and
it is a statewide problem.
Perceiving a clear political opportunity, the Maryland Republican Party
introduced a redistricting plan that breaks Maryland's large, multi-member
House districts into small, single-member districts. This probably would
make it easier for racial minorities -- and Republicans -- to get elected.
Several leading Democrats, including Montgomery County Executive Doug
Duncan, have expressed qualified support for single-member districts.
However, Democrats on the governor's five-member redistricting commission,
including Senate President Mike Miller, say the Republican plan is
partisan. Miller is open to drawing some single-member districts, but
apparently not in areas that would benefit Republicans. Democratic control
of redistricting in Maryland makes it unlikely that the Republican plan
will be adopted, although a small number of new single-member districts are
If both parties really are serious about opening up politics, they could
agree instead to move to a system of "cumulative voting" within their party
primaries. This would create much more openness without altering the
partisan dynamics of three-seat districts.
Cumulative voting already is in use in a number of jurisdictions. The
process is simple, and the ballot in Maryland's three-seat districts could
look the same as it does today. The only change would be that voters could
give one vote to each of three candidates, as they can now, but they also
would have the option to give their three votes to one candidate or divide
their votes between two candidates.
By measuring the intensity of voter preference as well as its scope,
cumulative voting empowers political minorities to win seats more in
accordance with their support and makes representation more accessible to
everyone. An analysis by the Center for Voting and Democracy indicates that
such a plan likely would have resulted in the election of several more
representatives from minority communities in Montgomery County without
affecting the county's partisan balance.
Incumbents can be resistant to change, but the Voting Rights Act requires
us to build a more open and racially integrated political system. Through
cumulative voting in primaries, Democrats and Republicans alike could
advance this shared goal while avoiding the inevitable partisan and legal
wrangling that greeted the effort to go to single-member districts.
Legislators in Annapolis should enact rules for cumulative voting in party
primaries and consider doing so for general elections. Too much is at stake
to talk big and think small about this problem.
(Jamin B. Raskin and Eric C. Olson are, respectively, a professor of
constitutional law at American University and deputy director
of the Center for Voting and Democracy.)
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