The case against a special election

Editorial by Norm Winick

The Zephyr, Galesburg, IL

December 18, 2008


Republicans are crying foul because the leadership in Springfield looks like they are not interested in changing the law to allow a special election to fill Illinois’ vacant U.S. Senate seat. They are trumpeting on their new website and in a constant flow of press releases that Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin have flip-flopped on the issue — and they have — but not for the strictly political reasons the Republicans claim.

A special election is the only way the Republicans would be in play and could have a chance to poach a “safe” Democratic seat. But that assumes the Illinois GOP would nominate a white knight who would excite the voters and prevail in a primary and a general election. If they had a competent candidate for statewide office, they could have easily defeated Rod Blagojevich in 2006. If they had anybody qualified to be a U.S. Senator, they wouldn’t have had to import Alan Keyes from Maryland to run in 2004. The Illinois Republican cupboard is bare and they are delusional to think otherwise.

But there are many other reasons why a special election is not the answer — not the least of which is that it’s probably unconstitutional. Changing the statute after a vacancy already exists would make it an ex post facto law, prohibited by the U. S. Constitution.

Even if the legislature decided to pass a special election law anyway, there is no indication that Rod Blagojevich would sign it. Without that, it could take months to become law before the clock could start on the process for candidates to run for election — and that’s if nobody challenged it in court.

Some have suggested that the special primary be held in conjunction with the February primary already scheduled but the candidates for that election have already filed their petitions. While much of the state holds a consolidated election in April, the City of Chicago does not. Whatever date would be chosen would be a unique and expensive one.

It takes time to get the 5,000 signatures required to file as a statewide candidate. If the candidates were to be given a reasonable amount of time to circulate petitions and file, and for the signatures to be challenged, and to campaign, and for a month of early voting, and then to follow up the special primary election with a special general election, the special elections would bump right into the petition circulating period for the 2010 election, which starts in September of 2009.

The cost to taxpayers for another pair of elections is astronomical. Election authorities estimate that it would be about $50 million. That doesn’t even include the cost of campaigning statewide.

Another concern is the condensed period to campaign and raise money for a special election. Without a big name, the only candidates who could likely raise the millions of federally-approved dollars necessary for a statewide campaign would be self-funding millionaires. We could easily end up with a race between the oft-defeated Republican Jim Oberweis and the once-embarrassed Democrat Blair Hull.

But the biggest reason to abandon hopes for a special election is that it isn’t fair to the residents of Illinois. The next Governor (or acting Governor) could appoint someone who would start representing us immediately — whether as a placeholder or a potential candidate for election to the office. Waiting for the results of an election would deprive Illinoisans of a U.S. Senator for many months. The challenges facing the nation are too important to wait.