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Steinberg: Early if not often

Legislation pending in Congress would strengthen voting rights in three ways. (SouthtownStar Newspaper Photo By Joseph P. Meier)

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Tuesday, March 15, is the presidential primary in Illinois, and for the first time in my adult life I won’t go to the polls on Election Day.

Not only won’t I be voting, I can’t.

It’s against the law.

I’m tempted to let you chew on that a bit, like the old riddle that stumped people in slightly more sexist times, where the man and his son are in a car wreck, the boy is rushed into surgery, and the doctor there says: “I can’t operate on that boy, he’s my son!”

Any idea? (About the voting. The doctor is his mom; you knew that, right?)

The reason I can’t vote March 15 — and good for you who got it — is that I’ve already voted, on Monday, Feb. 29, at the start of early voting. First time. I’m a creature of habit. I like dutifully marching off to the polls on Election Day. But I’m going to Japan in a few days, and while I’m supposed to get back March 14, I don’t want to be stuck on a plane diverted to Guam, tortured by the thought I’m missing my chance to toss a pebble on the scales for ….

Better not say. It’s bad form to reveal who you vote for. It’s like saying what you earn.

OPINION

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I will say that early voting is easy and fun — no lines. “No Excuse Voting” began in Illinois in 2006, part of the wacky Democratic idea of making voting easier for citizens, as opposed to the Republican drive to make it harder — at least for the wrong kind of citizens. In Texas, a firearm owner identification card counts as ID for voting purposes, yet a college ID doesn’t. Wonder why. These laws fall on minority and low-income voters the hardest. If the Black Lives Matter movement wanted to shake things up by finding a specific goal, it might consider renaming themselves “Black Votes Matter.” Because in a large swath of the country they don’t, not as much as white votes do.

Of course, even getting into the booth doesn’t mean a voter knows what they’re doing there. As a newspaper columnist, I like to think I’m pretty clued in about what’s going on, and I’m still shocked at how many races are a mystery to me.

The weakest link in our entire electoral system is our system of electing judges. Even informed voters play eeny, meeny, miny, moe to pick those who dispense justice. Most vote their ethnic preferences.

It’s a crazy system. Literally. It’s impossible to get rid of bad judges. In 2012, Circuit Judge Cynthia Brim was nevertheless handily re-elected shortly before being declared legally insane. All Chicago bar associations railed against her, joined by the press. No matter. The public isn’t paying attention.

I recognized only two judges’ names, and one wasn’t running: The “Biebel vacancy”: Paul Biebel, chief of the Cook County criminal courts, retired over the summer. Created the Veteran’s Court. A good man.

Another name stood out: “William S. Wojcik.” A lawyer from Oak Lawn.

I recognized his name for one reason: because he, alone among judicial candidates, called me.

Since he was on the phone, I asked him: why would any sane man want to be a judge in Cook County? What can you add?

“I believe I have a unique perspective, and that perspective is of a sole practitioner, someone who has been on his own his entire career,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a perspective widely represented on the bench. Most judges come to the bench by way of state’s attorney office, attorney general’s office, public defender’s office. They come from government. I’m the antithesis of that.

“I’m not a politician,” said Wojcik, 63. “Never have been, never run for office before.”

So why wreck his streak now?

“Maybe this is where my run for office comes from,” he said. “Beside all the work my dad was doing, he found time to be a precinct captain, the 39th precinct of the 12th Ward. He was always going to meetings, doing things for people. We’d question him, ‘Dad, why do you bother getting garbage cans for this guy.’ He was a public servant. He always thought it was a good thing to help people and run for office. I think my dad would be proud.”

So there you have it. I knew exactly one judge on the ballot and now, so do you. And if you are a judicial candidate, wondering why Wojcik gets the press and not you, the honest answer is, he phoned the newspaper and you didn’t.

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