Andy Shaw: Elections matter beyond the horse races

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(Tanya Moutzalias/The Flint via AP)

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“Elections Matter.”

That’s the theme of this week’s annual Better Government Association luncheon, and the timing couldn’t be better.

We’re into the home stretch of a critically important, endlessly fascinating and deeply troubling presidential race featuring two of the most polarizing and unpopular candidates who’ve ever carried a party banner into November.

Experts are predicting an enormous audience for the debates that begin in a couple weeks — with or without third party candidates — and I’ll definitely be watching.

Illinois has its own high-stakes battles — one for a U.S. Senate seat, the other for power in the state Legislature.

`Tis the political season, and we’ll take a deep dive into the election — predictions, analysis and inside stories — with our featured luncheon guest, Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director and host of “Meet the Press.”


Follow @andyshawbgaHe’ll join me for a Q&A that should be interesting, informative and entertaining.

But elections matter well beyond the horse races, and that’s the other focus of our luncheon.

Decades ago Illinois politicians, like most of their counterparts around the country, created an election system that protects incumbents by making it unnecessarily difficult for people to register, vote, get on the ballot and even think about running for office.

Understandably, election reform has been a top BGA priority, and our good government coalition has worked with state lawmakers to crack open the door to more citizen engagement — a key to a healthy democracy.

Now you can register to vote online, on Election Day and if you’ll be 18 by the next election.

You can also register and cast ballots during several early voting weeks before Election Day.

That’s a good start.

But there have also been significant setbacks, including the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent rejection of an amendment aimed at reforming the legislative redistricting process.

The goal of the citizen initiative, Independent Maps, was to let voters decide whether to end the legislative gerrymandering that creates “safe” districts for incumbent lawmakers and discourages competition.

It’s dead for this year if the high court won’t reconsider its decision, so amendment backers, including BGA, will consider new approaches in 2018, and perhaps the legislature itself will finally embrace redistricting reform.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we’re encouraging the General Assembly to correct another significant setback by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill authorizing automatic voter registration when people apply for drivers’ licenses or other state documents.

That can enfranchise thousands of new voters, and since it easily passed both legislative chambers last spring, an override is certainly possible.

We’re also fighting a new lawsuit challenging the legality of voter registration on Election Day.

Some of the other possible reforms we’ll be mentioning at the luncheon include: Voting online; opening our primary election so voters can cast ballots in Democratic and Republican contests, not just one or the other; moving the primary from March to a warmer month in late summer or early fall, and holding it on a weekend; translating ballots into foreign languages; publicly financing judicial campaigns and perhaps some other races; and shifting consideration of candidate petition challenges from local election boards to county clerks to reduce conflicts of interest.

Those reforms will be part of the conversation when state lawmakers reconvene in Springfield after the election, and I’ll get Chuck’s take on a few of them in our Q&A.

I’ll also ask him about another popular reform: Term limits, which voters love and politicians hate.

That’s a lot of food for thought at an annual luncheon.

Bon appétit.

Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.


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