Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ending overseas disenfranchisement moves forward in Illinois

Senator Michael Frerichs (D-Gifford) with the unanimous support of the Illinois Senate took a large step forward on ending the practice of disenfranchising overseas voters (many of whom are serving in the Armed Forces) by passing SB 439 yesterday.

The News-Gazette has the online front-page story here. Kate Clements writes:

While there is plenty of time between the statewide primary and general elections, voting rights advocates said there was not enough time between the February and April local election dates to determine the primary winners, certify a general election ballot, print and mail the absentee ballot overseas, and get the marked ballot back by mail in time to be counted.


Frerichs said his bill could put an end to that problem by allowing election authorities to send overseas absentee voters two ballots at the same time.

The first would be a regular absentee ballot for the primary election. The second would be a special ballot allowing voters to rank all of the candidates in each race in order of preference. If the highest-ranked candidate made it out of the primary, that person would be counted as the voter's general election choice. If not, election authorities would count the next-highest ranked candidate to have advanced.

"A ranked ballot system could solve the time constraint issue that is keeping our overseas servicemen and women from getting and returning their ballots on time," Frerichs said. "This is an innovative solution that allows all voices to be heard in the local voting process regardless of their location."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, thanks to Commander Frank Amaro, testified in favor of this idea in committee (as did yours truly), and the State Board of Elections was extremely helpful in improving the language of the bill.

The City of Springfield, led by Mayor Tim Davlin, placed this issue on the ballot in the April election, and 91% of voters approved the measure. The legislation would allow any municipality to implement a ranked ballot by ordinance and avoid the need to take the question to a referendum for what is essentially an administrative innovation.

Congratulations to freshman Senator Frerichs, a voting rights advocate before his election. Representative Paul Froehlich (R-Schaumburg) (another voting rights advocate before his election) has picked up the bill in the House. Let's hope that the bill meets with the same support in the House that it did in the Senate.

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