Thursday, May 01, 2008

Con Con Considerations: Special Election, or Regular?

The November ballot will ask voters whether Illinois should have a Constitutional Convention. A Constitutional Convention would be authorized to review any portion of Illinois' Constitution they wanted to -- and to propose an entirely new document, amendments to existing provisions, or additions of new materials. All proposals from a Convention would have to be approved by voters at a subsequent election in order to take effect. Governmental powers, taxing authority, separation of powers, the rights of those accused of crimes, and of victims; any or all of this could be on the table.

Our current state constitution requires that voters answer this question at least every 20 years. It takes a majority of votes cast on the question, or 3/5 of all ballots cast, to call a Convention. If there is a Convention, then two delegates will be chosen from each of the 59 State Senate districts.

But the Constitution also leaves much to the General Assembly to determine. Others have taken a position on whether or not there should be a Convention, and even on what issues a Convention should address if it is called. This page is less interested in what a Convention might accomplish as in how it might work. ICPR has not adopted a position in support of or opposition to a Convention, but instead offers these questions about the nuts and bolts of running a Convention in order to prompt discussion and solicit consideration.

Second in a Series

Electing the Delegates

The Constitution provides that there shall be two delegates elected from each Senatorial District and directs the General Assembly to make that happen. How that should happen would be up to the legislature.

The constitution provides that the voters shall answer the Convention question yes or no and that the General Assembly should then make arrangements for the election of delegates. It does not say when that election should be: at the 2010 regular gubernatorial election or at a 2009 special election.

There are a couple of considerations here: the regular 2010 elections will likely generate a predictable number of voters: fewer than in presidential years, but more than would probably turn out for a special election. The legitimacy of the 2010 election is not seriously in doubt. But the 2010 election will also have many other matters, and voters will be asked to evaluate dozens candidates for the six statewide offices and one U.S. Senate seat, plus all 19 Congressional seats, all 118 state House seats, and at least two dozen state Senate seats. Each voter will also likely see several candidates for judicial, county and other local offices.

By their nature, special elections, with usually only one or two matters, rarely draw significant voter interest. Fewer voters tend to get to the polls, and while the legitimacy of special elections is rarely questioned, if the numbers are too low, that may call into question the legitimacy of the result as an expression of popular will. There are also significant fixed costs associated with elections, for balloting equipment, renting polling places, and paying judges and monitors. And yet, voters in a special election have fewer distractions and can devote more time to each issue on the ballot. Too, a special election would allow delegates to get to work much sooner.

When should delegates be elected, at a 2009 Special Election or the 2010 General Election?

1 comment:

Rob_N said...

If it wouldn't be too soon, the April 2009 municipal elections might offer a way to combine a regularly scheduled election with a "special" election for Constitutional Convention delegates.

The problem I see with that timing is that petition circulation for muni elections often begins right around November's Election Day of the year before... so since the very question of a ConCon would be on that ballot there's no way to begin petition circulation til later (should petitioning be required -- again the legislature determines the process).