Before we move on to the next one, let’s do the work required to improve our elections.
Raise your hand if you’re one of those voters who doesn’t like having to tell an election judge whether you want a Democratic, Green or Republican ballot when you vote in an Illinois primary. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Political party officials prefer we hold our primaries that way because it tamps down turnout, making it easier for them to control who votes.
Illinois is one of six states that holds partially open primaries where you must say which ballot you want. Another nine states host closed primaries that require you to register with a political party in advance. But 15 states hold open primaries where you see all the parties’ candidates, and can pick and choose among them when you vote. Neighboring Michigan and Wisconsin hold their primaries this way, as does big-state Texas.
California and three other states hold so-called top-two primaries where voters see all the candidates from all parties, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, face each other in the general election.
We could change the way Illinois primaries are run. It won’t be easy, but having the conversation is a good start.
We also need a better handle on our voting systems. SB 3523 is a proposal to require election administrators to report on the age and condition of their voting equipment and software every two years. Our equipment is aging across Illinois. Paper problems that prevented DuPage County officials from counting votes last Tuesday ought to underscore the need for the survey, and funding that’s required to keep our equipment current and functioning.
Early voting started late in some parts of Illinois this year and confusion reigned. Let’s push to find a fix for that. Legal challenges and appeals involving Cook County Assessor candidate Andrea Raila and attorney general candidate Scott Drury created inconsistencies and room for error from one polling place to the next once early voting began.
In some parts of the state, voters were told of a pending challenge to Drury and that a vote for him might not count if he were removed from the ballot. He wasn’t, but what sort of message does that send? The complications in Chicago and Cook County multiplied when an appeals court panel put Raila back on the ballot just a few days before Primary Election Day. She filed suit, claiming some precinct judges posted notices saying she was no longer a candidate when she was. What a mess, but the solution is tricky.
Illinois has a long early voting period. Nonetheless, the law calls for a 40-day window to vote before Election Day and we should be hesitant to shorten it or take any steps that could suppress the chance to cast a ballot.
Instead, why don’t we consider moving up the start of the candidate filing period and streamline appeals?
While we’re at it, why not make it a little easier for more of us to run by eliminating some of the rules and lowering the number of signatures required on petitions to run? Candidates for Cook County-wide office have to collect more than 8,000 voter signatures. Chicago mayoral wannabes need 12,500, but major-party statewide contenders need at least 5,000.
Potential candidates ought to be able to demonstrate they have some support, but Illinois goes overboard with its signature requirements, conflicted electoral boards and picky rules designed to trip people up.
In local elections, mayors and city clerks are among the members of electoral boards who get to decide who stays and who goes when candidacies are challenged. They have clear conflicts of interest in making those decisions because they tend to know plenty of people in town. We ought to find a better way. We’ve also had candidates removed because their candidacy papers were paper clipped, for goodness sakes. Eliminating overly burdensome rules can give voters more choices and might shorten the appeals process.
It’s a rigged system, with too many rules designed to keep incumbents in control of ballot access. That’s no way to run a participatory democracy. Let’s iron out the process, the machinery and counting, and make it easier for more of us to run and to vote.
Madeleine Doubek is policy & civic engagement director for the Better Government Association.
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