NEWS

Editorial: Sensible con-con ruling comes up short

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Cook County Judge Nathaniel Howse Jr. tried to solve a difficult problem with a sensible and practical solution last week.

Howse ordered that all voters be given a flier correcting false and biased ballot language on the question of whether the state should hold a constitutional convention.

But we wonder whether he should have chosen a more rash and impractical solution in order to send a message to the state’s power structure that trying to game the outcome of an election won’t be tolerated, even in Illinois.

You have to give the political insiders credit for their boldness.

Throughout Illinois’ sorry political history, the powers that be have tried to rig elections in any number of ways. But rarely have they tried to do it out in the open and on the very ballot itself.

Here’s the back story: The Illinois Constitution requires that the state’s voters consider whether to hold a constitutional convention every 20 years. Simple enough, right? Put that on the ballot and ask voters whether they want to have one.

But a bipartisan state legislative committee in charge of writing ballot questions thought there needed to be a few additions. The language they approved incorrectly told voters that not voting on the question was equal to a “no” vote and noted that the last time the question was asked, it failed overwhelmingly.

It’s unclear who on the committee inserted the language, but he or she must be held accountable because this has cost the state time and money.

The language was sent on to Secretary of State Jesse White, who is charged by law with placing the language on the ballot. White claimed he could not alter the legislature’s language when officials, including Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, balked at it.

The reason they wrote it that way is easy to figure out. This state’s politicians, insiders and special interests have the misfortune of voters considering such a convention when state government is at the height of dysfunction. The voters know it, too.

Marvel, for a moment, at their brazen cynicism. Imagine if legislators’ electoral history, complete with the margin of victory (or defeat), were printed each time they faced voters. They and their opponents would scream to the heavens.

Fortunately, the Chicago Bar Association and Quinn, who is generally an enemy of the insiders and the status quo, sued, and Howse declared the language unconstitutional.

But the judge also said there is no time to order all ballots reprinted statewide. That solution would be expensive, and it would not address those voters who already have been sent absentee ballots or voted early.

Howse also said that blacking out the offending language on existing ballots would damage them. He declined to order that the corrected language be mailed to every registered voter in the state at a $2 million cost.

Quinn said the solution decided upon falls short.

He’s right. This is a big deal. Voters still will read the unconstitutional language when they go into the voting booth or fill out their absentee or early-voting ballot. The two different sets of language are likely to be confusing to some, leading them to vote “no” on the question or not at all, which is what those who wrote it this way wanted in the first place. They’re getting away with it.

Given how close Election Day is, we understand the judge’s decision. He acted sensibly in light of the circumstances before him. But this may have been one of those times in which Barry Goldwater’s famous quote — “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” — might have been applicable.

State Journal-Register