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Cumulative Voting, Explained

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Emily Dexter · Feb 28, 2024

Cumulative voting is a semi-proportional electoral system that has been used in various localities across the United States, but that has not been used on a national scale. The main aim of cumulative voting is to give minority groups a better chance of influencing the outcome of elections.

What Is Cumulative Voting?

In most parts of the United States, during elections, voters enter the voting booth and cast a single vote for their preferred candidate from a pool of many contenders. With cumulative voting, also called accumulation or weighted voting, the process works differently. In this system, each voter is assigned a number of "points," which he or she can then distribute among the candidates as he or she chooses. 

For example, if there are three candidates on the ballot and the voter has three points to cast, they can choose to cast one point for each, two points for one candidate and one point for another, or all three points for one candidate. In paper format, dot voting is used. After the election, the candidate with the most points wins the election, providing a more accurate proportional representation of the community, while fostering fair voting practices and uplifting minority voices. Minority voters can leverage their votes to the greatest effect by concentrating them on their most highly preferred candidates.

Cumulative voting is more commonly used in corporate settings, especially when electing directors to a company’s board. In this setting, shareholders’ “points” are determined by their number of shares of stock in the company. If a particular shareholder has 20 shares in the company, and the company needs to elect 10 directors to its board, for example, that shareholder would have 100 “points” or votes to cast. That shareholder could then spread out their votes among multiple candidates, or lump all of their votes together in favor of one candidate.

This method contrasts with the practice of straight voting. With straight voting, shareholders have as many votes as they have shares of stock. So in the above example, the shareholder with 20 shares of stock would have 20 votes to cast. Another, smaller shareholder with just five shares of stock would only have five votes to cast, even though there are 10 board directors to elect. An even smaller shareholder with just one share would only have one vote to cast. While the larger shareholder would have the power to influence the election of all 10 new board directors, these smaller shareholders would only be able to influence the election of one or some of the seats. This is why cumulative voting is helpful for companies that wish to give all shareholders a fair voice in the election process; cumulative voting lets even minority shareholders have a say in the election of all seats on the new board of directors.

In both political and corporate elections, cumulative voting works to ensure that the interests of minority groups — whether minority demographics or minority shareholders — are equitably represented.


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Examples of Cumulative Voting in Politics

Many local and regional elections have experimented with cumulative voting, with some success. Here are some examples of cumulative voting in action:

Peoria, Illinois

Peoria, Illinois uses cumulative voting to elect the five at-large members of its city council. This system was put into place after a 1987 federal lawsuit, and is still used today. Most recently, Peoria used cumulative voting to elect the at-large members of its city council in April 2023. In this latest election, a newcomer to the political scene, Bernice Gordon-Young, received the most votes and came in first place.

Village of Port Chester, New York

In 2009, the Village of Port Chester, New York adopted a cumulative voting system. This decision came after the Department of Justice filed a complaint claiming that the village’s at-large system of electing its board of trustees diluted the voting power of its large Hispanic population. A year later, in 2010, Port Chester elected its first Hispanic village trustee, Luis Marino. Marino was reelected in 2013. In 2021, he was elected as the village’s first Hispanic mayor. He then won reelection for another term as mayor in March 2023.

Amarillo, Texas

Between 1991 and 2000, more than 57 Texas jurisdictions made the switch to cumulative voting. This was largely in response to Voting Rights Act suits. Amarillo, Texas was the largest jurisdiction to implement cumulative voting, and adopted the system for school board elections in 2000. That year’s school board election resulted in the election of the city’s first African American school board member, as well as its first Hispanic school board member since the 1970s. Amarillo also saw a dramatic increase in voter turnout.

Chilton County, Alabama

In 1988, Chilton County, Alabama adopted cumulative voting as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed against its previous electoral system. The county’s first election to use cumulative voting resulted in the election of an African American county commissioner, Bobby Agee. Agee was the first African American commissioner elected in the twentieth century, and was reelected in 1992.

Cumulative Voting’s Impact on Representation

According to many political science experts, a system that allows voters to allocate their preferences across different candidates should be, in theory, a fairer system out of the currently used voting methods. In this inclusive voting system, minority groups and perspectives should have an equal voice with groups that have more resources to allocate to the campaigning process and thus more of a chance to be heard and recognized. 

Electoral systems that promote a winner-take-all approach often do not often allow for fair representation, nor do they encourage voter empowerment. However, cumulative voting is not the right choice for every election or jurisdiction. Cumulative voting has historically been implemented in communities that have required concerted action to balance the strength of different voting blocs and provide better representation for minority groups.

Other alternative voting systems are used in other contexts, such as ranked choice voting, approval voting, and STAR voting.

Join the Movement for Electoral Reform

Cumulative voting is just one method of electoral reform that can encourage fairer representation and increase voter participation in local elections. 

Want to learn more about the movement for electoral reform? Click here to explore more articles about electoral reform, or learn how you can get involved by volunteering in support of reform-minded candidates across the United States.


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By Emily Dexter
Emily Dexter is the content marketing coordinator at Good Party. Based in the Midwest, she brings a fresh perspective and editorial experience to the team.