Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It feels like an Election Day

There is a part of me that wishes I were headed for my polling place to cast my ballot to indicate preferences for candidates for the November elections.

Today is the third Tuesday of March, which traditionally was the date upon which primary elections were conducted in Illinois – a date that in some years can coincide with St. Patrick’s Day (although this year, it misses the great green festival by one day).

BY THIS POINT, I am now ready to make the trip to my neighborhood Lutheran church (which doubles as the local polling place) to cast my votes related to the state government and U.S. senate elections, along with picking all those judges.

The only problem is that it is NOT Election Day. We (or at least the few of us who bothered) all cast our ballots in the primary election held six weeks ago. Although I find a bit of poetic justice in the fact that we didn’t figure out that Bill Brady really won the Republican primary until just over a week ago.

Is that some sort of cosmic sign saying that THIS is the time of the year when we should be deciding things. These District of Columbia residents of 1938 couldn't vote because of the local laws in the federal district. We can't vote Tuesday because our officials foolishly held our elections six weeks ago. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

In one of the few bits of evidence that our politicos aren’t completely brain-dead, Illinois is considering a return to mid-March elections. Just last week, the Illinois House of Representatives gave its final approval to a bill that shifts the elections from early February to this time of year.

NOW, IT GOES to Gov. Pat Quinn, and his aides say the governor, “looks forward” to signing the measure into law. So 2010 will be remembered not only as the title of an awful sequel, but as the final year in which we had ridiculously early elections.

It also is evidence that some of our political peoples’ stupidest gestures can be undone.

I remember thinking that the Illinois Legislature was being incredibly short-sighted when this change was made. Somehow, the desired goal of giving homestate politico Barack Obama an advantage didn’t seem worth it.

In the end, moving the primary in 2008 to early February wound up resulting in exactly what state officials were trying to avoid – our state’s primary that year got lost in the shuffle.

HOW ELSE TO explain the fact that the Illinois primary was held the same day as New York and California? The national attention wound up going to California because it was the one state that wasn’t home to a Democratic presidential hopeful.

Considering how the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination that year turned into a drawn-out fiasco that wasn’t resolved until the whole process ended in June, Indiana with its ridiculously-late May primary wound up having more influence than Illinois.

Some will argue that 2008 was a bizarre election year that should not be used as a standard for analyzing anything. I’d agree. To me, the more dangerous after-effect of an early February primary is what occurred this year.

The early Election Day date contributed to the fact that record-low voter turnouts were registered in many counties across the state. Nobody wanted to be bothered with thinking about voting for anything (not even something as important as senator or governor) at that early date.

IT ALSO CREATED such a short primary season (barely a month of campaigning) that I honestly believe most people didn’t have a clue who they were voting for.

Anybody who looks at the primaries in both major political parties for lieutenant governor would have to admit that candidates with actual records would have had time to get the word out – instead of people picking the candidates who had money to appear often in television campaign ads.

Perhaps we could have avoided Scott Lee Cohen or Jason Plummer if we had more time to study the candidates? Of course, those candidates might have been able to use their financial advantage to burn their impressions so strong into the public conscience that people might have cared more that Cohen could win an election and still get shoved aside by his political party “allies.”

Of course, I’m not saying lieutenant governor was the only affected office by the early Election day this year.

I WONDER IF a few more weeks would have enabled one of the Republican gubernatorial dreamers to do better. Could six more weeks have allowed state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, to find 194 more votes – thereby making him the winner?

On the Democratic side, I will always be convinced that the one big winner of an early Election Day this year was Quinn himself. Six more weeks of having to campaign, and perhaps departing Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes would have overcome the Mighty Quinn.

Hynes versus Dillard, if only we had held this year’s primary elections (and I write this as one who actually voted last month for Quinn) at the right time? It will be one of the all-time Could Have Been issues that our political watchers will discuss for years.

It’s too bad Quinn couldn’t actually sign this particular bill into law on Tuesday. It wouldn’t do a thing to undo this year’s election results (apparently, only Cohen-like behavior can undo an election).

BUT IT WOULD eliminate a significant flaw in the political process that we built into the system a couple of years ago. Now, we can go back to complaining about the candidates themselves being incompetent and out-of-touch.

What could be more “All-American” than that?


EDITOR’S NOTES: Bill Black, a legislator from Danville, always has a knack for being blunt-spoken and honest (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2010/03/illinois-primary-election-headed-back-to-march.html), particularly his assessment (http://www.sj-r.com/state/x673415277/Later-primary-bill-now-heads-to-governor) that February primaries were “a disaster.”

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