Rich Miller has gently reminded me to get to work posting about the election omnibus bill that passed the House yesterday, HB 1968 as amended. It's a long bill with about a dozen small but significant improvements to democracy in Illinois. None of them are, to my eyes, objectionable, and none of them are Democratic Party power plays. Dissenting opinions are welcome, but here's my take.
The bill is very similar to the omnibus bill that the House passed in 2004, but was not called in the Senate, as it was caught up in the breakdown between Speaker Madigan and President Jones that led to the overtime session. Here, since the Senate sponsor (Terry Link) amended a House shell first and sent it back over for the House to concur, the bill passed without any problem, signaling a closer relationship between the two chambers and foreshadowing, perhaps, the spirit of cooperation between the Speaker and the President.
A few of the best provisions of the bill include:
*early voting by personal appearance from 22 to 5 days before an election, where anyone can show up to the election administrator's office and cast their ballot early. This will likely raise turnout. It will also create what an Arizona legislator (where they use early voting) calls a double feld campaign -- the first campaign is to get the early voters out, and the second campaign is the traditional election day operation. I think this is a good thing, as it makes for likely shorter lines on presidential election days, and it gives people a chance to cast a ballot without walking through the gauntlet of bored campaign workers pushing slips of paper on to them from 100 feet away from the polling place.
*better disclosure for anyone who spends money on campaigns, to avoid the non-disclosure from both the trial lawyers and the chamber on the Supreme Court race this last go-round.
*perhaps the best anti-fraud provisions in the nation related to computerized voting. I think there is a real risk of stolen or distorted election results from electronic voting equipment (google 'Ohio exit poll 2004' for some details on unanswered questions), and the new state law (assuming Governor Blagojevich signs the bill) that requires a third party to test the equipment vendor's computer code submitted to the State Board of Elections, as well as reinforcing the need for a voter-verified paper trail for all new equipment, will make it more difficult for a nefarious operative with one of the privately-held vendors to manipulate the results of an election. Other states and Congress should look at these provisions of the bill as models for ensuring a secure election, relative to voting equipment.
*the Internet voters guide for statewide candidates is a long overdue move, originally pushed by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and a task force led by Jesse White and Judy Baar Topinka. Ira Silverstein and Dave Sullivan, among others, have been methodically pushing for the proposal for years, and they deserve credit and thanks. The legislation does not require a voters guide for the primary election, leaving it to the Board's discretion, but I certainly hope the Board decides to exercise their discretion and set up a guide for the March 2006 election.
*deputy registrars can register anyone to vote, and not just people who live in their election jurisdiction. It is kind of dumb to have 110 separate election jurisdictions in the state, especially when it creates a barrier to getting people registered. I understand the Lake County Clerk didn't like this provision (triple hearsay, so that might not be correct), but the provision is a good one.
There might be a touch of irony that a bill that increases transparency in government was put together in a relatively non-transparent way and delivered to the General Assembly in the last 10 days of session, but that's a minor quibble as most of the provisions were debated or even passed separately over the last few years. The College Voter Registration Act in HB 715, for example, is also included in this bill too, and the Internet voters guide had already been passed out of the Senate this session separately.
One bad provision is an increase in the number of signatures from 300 to 500 and 600 to 1000 for nominating petitions for the House and Senate, respectively. Ballot access should get easier, not harder, as we have too few candidates on the ballot, not too many. And there isn't any move to make it easier for third party candidates or independents to get on the ballot in this bill, which is another long overdue move.
All told, though, it is appropriate that Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie pushed this bill, as it is largely a good-government, democracy-enhancing move.
Interesting, isn't it, that the Dems aren't getting much credit for the good-government aspects of the bill, and that the press on it is largely "Dems muscle through a bill that Republicans say will create voter fraud." I think the vote fraud argument is largely a red herring. Organizations commit voter fraud, not individuals, and expanding opportunities for individuals to vote usually doesn't increase opportunities for fraud to occur. It's not like this is a real power play, like a congressional remap to get an 11-8 DC delegation. It's a lot closer to a 'do the right thing' bill -- and I'll bet there won't be a single editorial congratulating the Dems on expanding the franchise or rebuking Republicans for opposing the move. I wonder if that's a message problem for the Dems.