By JOHN KINDT
"If you don't trust Springfield, vote NO on the November ballot's Constitutional Amendment," some legislative candidates advise. "If you trust Springfield, vote YES" to concentrate more budgetary power in Springfield.
Voters will not even know what they are voting for or against, because the proposed amendment is not printed on the ballot. There is only a brief summary "explanation."
On Oct. 17, John Bambenek, a Senate candidate from Champaign, filed the case of Bambenek v. Illinois State Board of Elections objecting to the ballot's constitutional irregularities and asking that the court rule the vote to be nonbinding.
The ballot's summary "explanation" is provided by the same Springfield leadership which made Illinois the state with the nation's worst state budgetary crisis — including $83 billion in unfunded liabilities. The Bambenek case highlights that the ballot's "explanation" basically consists of one sentence following some introductory wording.
To make the Bambenek case apolitical, plaintiff John Bambenek asked his opponent, Sen. Michael Frerichs, to join as a plaintiff, but according to local media accounts to date, Sen. Frerichs has declined to join the Bambenek case.
Given his public service, Frerichs should join the case — as should all legislative candidates who might be having second thoughts regarding the constitutional propriety of what is printed on the ballot.
When some legislators and media ask the public to vote YES for a constitutional amendment which is not even printed on the ballot, they are arguably testing the limits of democracy itself. Bambenek's attorney, Mark Hewitt, believes the case could quickly go to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In this context, the League of Women Voters of Illinois, which prides itself as a "nonpartisan" organization advocating for good government, issued a public statement on Sept. 17 opposing the proposed constitutional amendment. On Oct. 24, the Chicago Tribune also urged a NO vote and emphasized numerous irregularities with the constitutional amendment.
The amendment is also opposed by such groups as the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Chicago FOP, Retired Teachers of Chicago, State Universities Annuitants Association, the FOP — with added opposition from labor organizations such as the AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Teamsters and Laborer's Midwest, as well as McLean County.
Sponsored by Speaker Madigan, the proposed amendment is receiving opposition across the political spectrum, but in particular, the constitutional amendment contains provisions which political scientists view as alienating the Democratic Party's political base.
While some local government interests, mainly Cook County and the city of Chicago, support the proposed constitutional amendment, both Democrat and Republican legislators who voted to place the amendment on the ballot may be having second thoughts as the public backlash continues to grow.
At over 700 words, the proposed Illinois constitutional amendment contains more words than the entire first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The amendment's proponents argue that Secretary of State Jesse White's office recently sent a pamphlet with the proposed 700-word amendment printed on it to Illinois households. But obviously, there will be voters who go to the polls on Nov. 6 who never received the pamphlet.
Compounding the problem that the 700-word text of the proposed amendment is not on the ballot, the summary provided for the voters does not address important issues in the amendment — such as potentially overruling the constitutional clause protecting earned benefits.
Furthermore, the summary is confusing and begins with a warning that arguably leads voters to vote "yes." Specifically, the lead-in to the summary states: "NOTICE: THE FAILURE TO VOTE THIS BALLOT ... ." To add to the confusion, this caveat to the voters is not printed in the Jesse White pamphlets.
Even the print-size emphasis is different. On the Chicago-area ballots, these words of warning are all printed in capital letters, while on other ballots, these words are printed in large and lower case roman letters. Marketing experts know that print size and emphasis are impactful when selling an idea — particularly involving voters.
As noted in the Bambenek case, the disparate print size actually violates Illinois procedural law as enumerated in the Illinois Code.
Both federal and state voting principles necessitate that voters be allowed to read the entire 700 words of the proposed constitutional amendment in the voting booth, and voters should not be deprived of essential information or manipulated via "warnings" and summary "explanations."
Across the entire political spectrum, all Illinois voters should be concerned by the processes by which November's proposed constitutional amendment is being presented and by the new draconian budgetary powers it will vest in the same leaders who saddled Illinois with $83 billion in unfunded liabilities.
University of Illinois Emeritus Professor John Kindt holds three earned law degrees and has often testified as an academic before Congress and state legislatures regarding business and legal policy issues.