Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Primary election changes considered

By Rachel Wells

After a primary election that resulted in low voter turnout and a lieutenant governor candidate stepping aside amid scandal, legislators are considering some changes to the state’s election process.

HB 4964 would move primary elections from the first Tuesday in February to the third Tuesday in March – the date used before the General Assembly changed it for the 2008 presidential election.

“This is the date that we had lived with for many, many election cycles, and I think that given the experience of the voters and candidates in the February election, it is a good idea to move it back,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

HB 5820 – a bill pairing the lieutenant governor and the governor as running mates before the primary – also passed through committee but not without opposition.

“It’s different, of course, than other ideas that are being floated, [including] one to abolish the office entirely. I think this is a better approach, frankly,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and House assistant majority leader.

The way the lieutenant governor is chosen has come under scrutiny after candidate Scott Lee Cohen, a pawnbroker accused of domestic battery, won the Democratic primary and then stepped aside amid a media storm over his past. The Democratic Party now gets to choose its candidate.

Another proposal, from House Speaker Michael Madigan, calls for a constitutional amendment abolishing the lieutenant governor position altogether.

“Who do you think Gov. Blagojevich would have picked? Harris?” asked Rep. Monique Davis, a Chicago Democrat, referring to the former governor’s chief of staff, John Harris, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud. “You’re saying that whoever the governor is would have the right to choose his or her successor.”

Lang said voters could consider that fact when choosing their candidates. “[The measure] would solve the problem of – as you heard recently – of candidates not being vetted by political parties, which of course they had no responsibility to do in the first place. But this will solve that problem.”


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