Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Illinois newspapers

February 17, 2020

Chuicago Sun-Times

Who can keep sham candidates for screwing up elections? You

In just about every election, you come across sham candidates.

These are candidates whose names are put on the ballot for the sole purpose of drawing votes from somebody else. They don’t campaign or raise money or give a hoot about winning. Their job is to confuse voters and gum up the works of an honest choice.

The courts can’t stop it, nor really can the state Legislature. How does a judge or lawmaker define who’s a “real” candidate and who’s a “sham” without treading all over the democratic process?

It’s up to you.

The best defense against a sham candidate is an educated voter.

A federal court did wade into the issue last year, considering a suit filed by Jason Gonzales, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s opponent in the 2016 Democratic primary in the 22nd District. Gonzales claimed that Madigan had put two sham candidates on the ballot — a man and a woman with Hispanic surnames — to take votes away from Gonzales.

But U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly ruled against Gonzales in August, saying Gonzales did not have enough evidence.

On Sunday, John Seasly of Injustice Watch reported in the Sun-Times that a number of apparent sham candidates are on the ballot for judgeships in Cook County. These are candidates, named by Sealy, who have reported no fund-raising or spending, and they are notably absent at campaign events.

The right to run for office — to get on a ballot without jumping through ridiculous hoops — is essential in a democracy. But to ensure that a candidate is at least minimally credible and serious, our election laws already impose some limits. A candidate must sign a statement of candidacy so that his or her name is not put on the ballot without permission. And a would-be candidate must collect a certain number of petition signatures.

But how’s that going to stop a Mike Madigan, whose small army of political workers could collect enough valid signatures to put Santa Claus on the ballot?

Sham candidates usually win only a small percentage of the vote, but that’s often all that’s needed to thwart a patron’s foe.

Every vote for a sham candidate is cast in ignorance. The more voters bone up on a race, the more a sham candidate will come up empty.

We urge you, as a voter, to do your homework.

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February 18, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Time is growing short to fix the state’s self-defeating legislative redistricting process

There’s a lot of political hot air and insincere rhetoric floating around Springfield about a proposal filed in the General Assembly this week that would allow voters to consign legislative gerrymandering to the ash heap of Illinois history.

But truer words were never spoken when Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, warned of the negative consequences of a failure to put this measure on the November 2020 ballot.

“The time for an end to gerrymandering is now so that we’re not saddled with another 10 years of maps that stifle competition and suppress voters’ choices,” Doubek said.

That, of course, is just what Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, and, most probably, new Senate President Don Harmon are counting on — being able to draw new state legislative district maps that “stifle competition and suppress voters’ choices” through 2032.

That’s why legislators now stand at a fork in the road. One way — preservation of the current gerrymandering process — leads to more of the same — non-competitive House and Senate elections where the winners have been pre-determined. The other offers voters the prospect of more competitive elections that feature greater choice and a potential modification of the permanent political control that feeds elected officials’ self-interests.

To qualify for the ballot, the proposed constitutional amendment — HJRCA 41 — must receive the support of three-fifths of both the House and Senate. To become part of the Illinois Constitution, the measure would have to be approved by three-fifths of voters.

If it should happen to be put to a vote, the measure is expected to pass. Public opinion polls show overwhelming support for the idea of stripping incumbent legislators of the power to draw their own districts — in effect, picking their own voters.

But the bigger question is whether either Madigan or Harmon would ever let the measure be put to a vote in the legislative bodies they control.

Further complicating the matter is that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has all but abandoned his support for the amendment. He claimed to back the measure when he ran for election in 2018. But he said recently he’ll review whatever maps Madigan sends him and decide whether he approves.

The amendment proposed by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans would put an end to that type of political influence.

It would require 17 members of an independent commission appointed by the state Supreme Court to draw legislative boundaries for members of the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the state House and Senate. The panel would be barred from basing their mapping decisions on partisan factors.

Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush said it’s necessary the measure become law because “gerrymandering is ruining our democracy.”

Gerrymandering refers to the ancient practice of drawing legislative maps in a way that gives members of the map-drawers’ party a distinctive political advantage.

As a consequence of gerrymandering in 2011, Democrats currently enjoy supermajorities in both the House and Senate.

The next round of map-drawing is scheduled for 2021 following the 2020 Census. The process is supposed to ensure that House and Senate districts are roughly equal in population, but it has historically lent itself to exploitation by self-interested legislators.

The practice is not just an issue in Illinois, but all across the nation. A number of states have revised their redistricting processes in a way that bars the relentless partisanship featured in Illinois.

While proponents of the measure face an uphill battle, their goal is to place enough pressure on fellow legislators that they will, in turn, pressure Madigan and Harmon to allow the measures to be put to a vote in the House and Senate.

It’s hard to imagine Madigan ever yielding on the issue in a sincere way. Indeed, an undetermined number of legislators who have publicly embraced reform are counting on either Madigan or Harmon to kill it behind the scenes.

That’s the way politics is played in Illinois. The state is not only relentlessly corrupt, but its leaders are also devious and cynical. Nonetheless, a bipartisan group has launched an effort to enact a meaningful and structural change in the way business is done.

If they don’t win on this measure, the people of Illinois will lose.

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February 17, 2020

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Does Illinois deserve more influence on presidential races?

There is nothing wrong with suggesting Illinois should be the first state to vote in presidential primaries. The idea is fine. Just don’t expect it to be adopted.

Amid the fallout from the poorly handled Iowa caucuses earlier this month, national observers continued to question the emphasis on Iowa as a launching pad for presidential hopefuls. In addition to giving a significant amount of credence to the selections of a relative handful of Iowans, there’s the valid criticism of how little the state’s results would impact the actual national primary races because of the limited number of delegates afforded the state.

“If you’re looking for a state whose people represent the diversity of America, look no further than Illinois,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker tweeted last week. “It’s time for the most representative state in the country to be the first in the nation.”

Whether Illinois is the most representative state is open to debate. An NPR study ranks Illinois at No. 1, followed by Kansas and Arizona. Make of that what you will. New Hampshire and Iowa, which since the 1970s have carried enormous weight in the election process, don't reflect the demographics or political diversity of the U.S. Certainly there’s a clear divide between urban and rural, and Illinois can stand in as the most representative of those voting blocs, which appear en masse throughout the country.

But Illinois faces obstacles of both circumstance and its own doing. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said he’d like to have the state involved early in the decision-making process, but “Iowa and New Hampshire are determined to have a primary in two years in advance if necessary to always be first. … we’ll never, never ever, be the first in line.”

David Greising, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, brought up a more prescient point. “The elephant in the room is the rampant corruption,” he said.

That’s not the elephant in the room. That phrase indicates it’s something that’s obvious but a topic people don’t want to discuss. Illinois wishes corruption in its politics was the elephant in the room. But we can’t escape the federal searches, charges and resignations of our political leaders.

Or maybe the simpler response to Greising is a sarcastic “Oh, you think so?”

Illinois isn’t even showing it has an ability to keep its voting rolls clean. Non-citizens have been registered. Underage citizens have nearly been registered. Registrations of former inmates have been erroneously canceled.

When you see a problem, there’s nothing wrong with stepping up and offering an alternate solution. In a different world, Illinois would be a fine selection. In 2020, however, Illinois is having trouble enough handling who it is going to allow to vote.