Referendums on ballot have something for every voter

Ryan Keith

There’s a little something for every voter with something to say this election, from recall and constitutional rewrites to alcohol sales and higher local taxes.

Those are among more than 270 ballot questions voters throughout the state will see Nov. 4 when they go to the polls, according to a tally by the State Board of Elections.

That’s below the referendum totals for other general elections in the last decade, the board says. It could be the product of fewer questions about local tax and fee increases in a slowing economy.

“Why put it on if it’s going to go down?” said Dianne Felts, director of voting systems and standards for the state board.

But there’s still many important and unusual issues voters will be asked about.


Every 20 years, voters must weigh in on whether they want to rewrite the state’s Constitution. The last vote, which soundly defeated the idea, came in 1988.

Both sides of the debate over whether to convene a constitutional convention – dubbed “con-con” -- are worked up and making a public push this fall.

Advocates for it say state government is so dysfunctional these days that a new Constitution is the only way to truly fix the problems. Critics, including business and labor groups, argue another con-con will be costly and wasteful since government can be fixed through other ways, and will stall advancement of important issues.

The con-con question itself has been tied up in court, with a Cook County judge ruling that it includes “misleading” and “inaccurate” language. Election officials are still trying to figure out how to solve that problem.


Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s unpopularity with voters and his battles with state lawmakers prompted a legislative push in the spring to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot to ask voters if they want the recall option.

The measure passed the House, but was blocked by Blagojevich’s allies in the Senate, even though the governor himself said he supported it.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a chief supporter of the idea, then managed to get the question on the ballot in Cook County as an advisory referendum. Now, ironically, voters represented by the key lawmakers who helped defeat the idea in the legislature will get their say on it anyway.

“I thought that was the best way to start the movement on the ballot,” Quinn said.

But they’re not alone. The county board in Winnebago County – home to Rockford – also put a question on its fall ballot about whether recall should be an option.

Scott Christiansen, Winnebago County Board chairman, said board members are fed up with inaction on a capital construction plan and other key issues in Springfield.

“I think the whole session here has been very frustrating for the entire state,” Christiansen said. “They just don’t seem to be performing at any level.”

Quinn plans to also put the recall issue on ballots throughout the state in next April’s municipal elections. “I think this is a good start,” Quinn said.


Greenville, a southern Illinois town of 7,000 people, is weighing whether to end a long, long dry spell – a more than 40-year ban on alcohol sales within city limits.

Assistant city manager Lisa Stephens understands it’s considered a moral issue by the conservative-leaning town, which is the home of Christian-affiliated Greenville College.

But she said being dry is costing the city money and jobs. Several developers, including one who wants to build a restaurant and grocery store, say they won’t locate in Greenville as long as alcohol sales are barred.

“We are a dry town, and that seems to be a backwards way of thinking nowadays,” Stephens, wife of Republican state Rep. Ron Stephens, said developers have told her.

Stephens said several places to buy beer and wine are right next to the city limits, and for the first time beer sales were allowed this summer at the Bond County Fair. She believes Greenville is the largest Illinois city to not allow liquor sales.

The city plans to soon have an educational meeting on the topic to stress why the change is needed.

“We need our citizens who live here to weigh in,” Stephens said.

Meanwhile, six precincts in Chicago are considering barring liquor sales.


Several other Illinois cities are asking voters for similar homegrown help.

The city of Prospect Heights, in Chicago’s suburbs, is asking voters to approve “home rule” status so the city can use hotel tax revenue to repair a number of city streets.

Voters in Ogle County, near Rockford, are being asked to approve removing a portion of the north side of the courthouse built in 1891 – restoring the original courtroom to its initial height.

Several villages and counties want voters to approve telephone surcharge and other tax increases to pay for improved 911 emergency systems and boost public safety and emergency response services.


Recall is among a wide range of issues where voters are being asked for their advisory opinions. In some cases, the ballot wording seems intended to reach a certain answer.

“Shall the general long-term nursing care category of service (Skilled Care Unit) at the Pinckneyville Community Hospital remain open and be recognized as an essential component of public health service by the Pinckneyville Community Hospital?” states the question in the small southern Illinois town.

Fifteen counties are asking whether state lawmakers should allow concealed carry of firearms.

One of those counties again is Winnebago. Christiansen said he thinks there’s widespread support for the idea statewide, but it will take voter outcry to persuade a legislature with a strong influence from opponents in Chicago.

“If there is some significant interest in the way of this passing, maybe it will build a little momentum,” Christiansen said.

And don’t forget the war.

Voters in Berwyn Township in Cook County will be asked if Congress should hold current and former public officials and private contractors accountable for “war crimes including torture and unprovoked aggression in connection with the Iraq war.”

In Oak Park Township, also in Cook County, voters face telling Congress to limit military funding in Iraq and Afghanistan to “only that which is required to bring all U.S. troops home safely.”

Ryan Keith can be  reached at (217) 788-1518