Quinn's amendatory veto of open-primary law likely kills the legislation

Quinn's amendatory veto of open-primary law likely kills the legislation

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn's use of his amendatory veto powers to create an open primary law in Illinois won't win legislative approval this fall, political observers predicted.

"This is clearly something that should run against the grain of the philosophy of (House Speaker) Michael Madigan who comes out of a political party organization context," University of Illinois political science professor Jim Nowlan said Wednesday. "My guess is that Madigan won't even deal with the bill and that it will in effect become a vetoed bill and that the underlying bill will be dead."

The original bill, HB 4842, required the State Board of Elections to compile an electronic voters guide before each primary election.

But Quinn amended the legislation to create a new way of conducting primary elections in Illinois. It would require election judges to give a voter the ballot for each established political party nominating candidates. Once inside the privacy of a voting booth, the voter would choose which party primary to vote in.

Champaign County Clark Mark Shelden said the changes would prove costly to the county, and confusing to voters.

"People could end up getting as many as four ballots," he said, including one that would include referendum questions.

"In the last primary we prepared for 32,000 voters," he said. "And that means we would have thrown away 30,000 Green Party ballots. In Chicago they would have thrown away about 800,000 Green Party ballots."

He said the county spends between 26 cents and 28 cents for each ballot printed. If 96,000 ballots were printed at a cost of 27 cents per ballot, but only 32,000 ballots were used, the county essentially would be throwing away more than $17,000 in a primary election.

"We're going to have people voting all three ballots, and wondering why only one should count," Shelden predicted. "And people wondering why they can't vote part of each. We're going to have plenty of confusion. We can deal with that.

"But I think the impact on turnout will be modest."

Every primary election, he said, his office hears from a half-dozen or so voters who don't like Illinois' primary election system which requires voters to declare at the polling place which party primary they want to vote in.

"But I think the way things have evolved today is that people have come to realize that when you vote that primary ballot you're not declaring that you are a member of that party, you are just declaring that you want to vote in that primary," Shelden said.

Another way to address some privacy concerns, Shelden said, is to not archive in which party primary a voter participated.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, praised Quinn's action but said it was doomed.

"I was glad to see him do it even though I think it has a zero percent chance of happening. It doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do," said Rose, who said he hopes Quinn's proposal "ratchets up more pressure on the Speaker to engage in some real reform."

He joked that Chicago's Democratic organization opposes the open primary because with it "they wouldn't know whose trash not to pick up in Chicago. You would effectively cripple the Machine so that you wouldn't know who to punish."

State Sen. Dale Righter, who supported an open primary in an April 2009 Senate vote, also predicted the House Speaker wouldn't permit a vote.

"Speaker Madigan is famous for unilaterally deciding that a governor has exceeded his amendatory veto power, and then the issue is dead. I wonder if this bill won't meet that same fate," said Righter, a Charleston Republican who was one of 17 Senate members to vote for an open primary last year.

"This the perfect setup for the Speaker because he can be against something without saying that he is against the idea. That way he doesn't irritate all the open primary (supporters)."

Still, Righter, who is an attorney, acknowledged there probably are legal problems with Quinn's amendatory veto.

"The amendatory veto section of the Constitution has been interpreted by the courts to not allow that power to substantively change legislation. I think you can make a pretty good argument that that is what he has done here," Righter said.

Nowlan, the UI political scientist, agreed that the legislation has legal and political problems.

"Given Madigan's attitude toward amendatory vetoes that transform the underlying nature of a bill, and given Madigan's attitude that such amendatory vetoes are not appropriate, it strikes me that the bill is dead in the water," he said.

Nowlan said an open primary would further weaken political parties.

"This looks like more of Quinn's traditional progressivism based on values going back to maybe 100 years ago when the parties were viewed as bad institutions that needed reform," Nowlan said. "I'm a believer in the role of political parties as a way to organize support on behalf of a candidate who represents a particular philosophy or set of values, and that actions like this further weaken parties which are already gravely weakened."

He said a weakened political party "increases the capacity of the super-rich to dominate politics and diminishes the ability of a candidate who lacks wealth to develop a career in politics."

And neither the Republican nor Democratic party chairmen in Champaign County was pleased with Quinn's veto.

"To the extent that Quinn did this out of almost nowhere it sounds like the Legislature didn't have a chance to debate it, the public didn't have much of a chance to debate it and a lot of us are just scratching our heads and saying, 'Where did this come from?'" said GOP Chair Jason Barickman.

"Quinn is preferable to (Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill) Brady in every respect but not everybody bats 100. And this is one of those ideas with ramifications and downsides that haven't been explored, and the way he did this was not helpful to improving things," said Democratic Party Chair Al Klein. "The governor has had this notion for a while and I'm unhappy that he chose this particular way to enact it without proper consultation. Usually he's much more open. This does not seem like that Pat Quinn that I know. He must have had a bad day, a bad day at the office."

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