Saturday, July 24, 2010

A special election for 8 weeks in office – that’s the legal mess Illinois is in now

The complications being experienced in U.S. District Court these days in trying to figure out how to hold an election to pick a replacement for what is left of the Senate term Barack Obama was elected to in 2004 ought to be evidence of how inane the appeals court ruling was that called for such an election.

It was the federal appeals court in Chicago that earlier this year ruled that federal law requires special elections to be held to pick an interim senator, and has rejected claims by elections officials in Illinois that conducting a special election in this case presents too many logistical problems.

SO NOW, WE have U.S. District Judge John F. Grady hashing through the process with elections officials, trying to figure out just how we Illinois residents will pick a permanent replacement for Obama’s term, on account of the fact that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., can only be regarded as a temporary replacement.

Never mind the fact that he has been senator for nearly twice as many months as the permanent replacement will serve in weeks in the U.S. Senate.

Some people are just election-happy, regardless of how impractical it was.

Now anyone who has consistently read the commentary here knows that I did not have as much of a problem with the idea of Sen. Burris as some people did. I liked the idea of an older caretaker who would merely finish out the last two years of the Obama term representing Illinois in the Senate, and would not be a serious candidate to win a six-year term in the Nov. 2 elections.

I DIDN’T WANT anyone getting the benefits of incumbency. I wanted the two major party candidates for the Senate seat to have more-or-less equal footing (which is what has happened, we’re in a political fight in Illinois to see whether Alexi Giannoulias or Mark Kirk is the bigger fool).

I also did not want what some incredibly impractical people were calling for – a special election in 2009, followed up by the regular election in 2010.

Having to go through this nonsense of a full-fledged campaign cycle in two consecutive years, right after going through a presidential election in ’08 (and followed up by what many people consider to be the important race – for mayor in ’11) would be electoral overload.

It would break elections officials financially to have to do that, as well as fry us mentally.

BUT WHAT WE’RE going to get is something more ridiculous. Because the people who think they’re pushing for a good-government ideal by wanting yet another election to deal with are going to have to cope with the fact that all they’re doing is putting the major political parties in complete control of the process.

Isn’t that what they want to believe is the root of the actual problem?

Nothing is definite (that’s what elections officials are trying to resolve with Grady), but it seems that the Democratic, Republican and Green parties (they are still legitimate in Illinois) will get to pick the actual candidates to represent them in any special election. The “voters” will get no say. There’s also a good chance that any other parties or political independents will be shut out of this process – even though “Roland, Roland, Roland” Burris says he wants to be a part of any ballot to pick his successor.

How long until one of those independents challenges this whole process? What about Burris himself? I still think it would make the most sense to let him have those final eight weeks in federal office. This may be the one time that those people have a legitimate point.

AS HAS BEEN speculated, when people show up at their polling places on Nov. 2 (or at an early voting center in the weeks leading up to Election Day), they will be asked to vote twice for U.S. Senate – once for a person to serve from Nov. 3 to Jan. 3 at noon, then another to take over at that time and serve the full six-year term.

Common sense says that the political parties will nominate Giannoulias, Kirk and LeAlan M. Jones, which means that most people will vote for the same person for both Senate slots.

Which means that the practical result of this so-called desire for good government in picking our U.S. Senate member is that we will be giving whoever wins the real election an eight-week head start over all of the other new members who get elected to the Senate come Nov. 2.

I’m sure Giannoulias or Kirk (or, if a miracle happens, Jones) would like that. It would give them all that much more seniority among their Senate colleagues – which can mean for slightly more influence. It certainly would eliminate the end result of the 2004 elections when the Senate guidelines for determining seniority ensured that Obama was ranked as the 100th member of the Senate (out of 100).

PERHAPS ILLINOIS IS better off if our new senator ranks in the mid-90s. But it strikes me as a miniscule benefit to receive in exchange for the confusion people here are experiencing now in trying to figure out how we pick an eight-week replacement.

That is an experience that makes me shudder to the point where I just might try casting Burris’ name as a write-in vote for the eight-week term as an act of protest.


No comments: