Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Today's special election is a waste; fill vacancies in one election, not two

Today’s special general election between Mike Quigley, Rosanna Pulido and Matt Reichel is a waste of time, money and resources. Taxpayers will shell out almost two million dollars to hold an election in the 5th Congressional district with only three names on the ballot. And the result of the election – the Democratic nominee is going to win – has been a foregone conclusion for a month.

The seat has been vacant since January. Meanwhile, during the debate on the federal stimulus and budget, the 600,000 people of the 5th congressional district have been without a voice in the House. That’s not good, because we have literally lost our seat at the congressional table while federal policy is made. Our election laws should fill a vacancy as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of our political clout.

In this case, the people spoke clearly last month in the primary election: they want a Democrat to represent them in the House.

Look at the numbers from the March 3rd primary: Mike Quigley, Democrat, earned 12,118 votes. Rosanna Pulido, Republican, earned 1,006 while Matt Reichel Green, earned 166. That’s 91% for Quigley, 8% for Pulido and 1% for Reichel. That’s a landslide. So why are we going through the motion of another election today between these three people when Quigley has already earned 91% of the vote last month? Why can’t we give the people what they already voted for?

Illinois should fill a congressional vacancy in one election, not two, particularly when the results are so clear. There are several ways to do it. We could replicate Chicago’s municipal elections where there is a runoff only if no candidate earns a majority of the vote. We could count a vote in the primary election as a straight ticket vote in the general election for whoever the nominee will be. Or we could use Irish-style instant runoff voting where voters rank all the candidates.

But whatever the method, we should absolutely not continue to waste two million dollars and minimize our own clout by waiting a month to finally elect a Representative in a second election when we could get the job done in one day.


Beth said...

So, you are essentially saying that you would like to see Congressional Races become non-partisan (as are local municipal elections). However, federal and state election laws declare a party-primary election for federal seats. Also, if we want a run-off only if someone did not get 50+1% of the vote, then IL 5 would apply... Quigley only won 22.73% of the vote in the Democratic primary, a result that would have been even further watered down if you added the Green and Republican vote tallies to that number. There are ways to reduce election costs, and I agree they need to happen sooner... vote by mail is an idea that has been floated, and has met with great success in other states.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Hi Beth,

Thanks for the comment. I don't think a non-partisan election is the only remedy to the problem of waiting an extra month to finally elect a Member of Congress to fill a vacancy. It could work, and I think only state law requires a party primary for Members of Congress. So a state law could allow for nonpartisan elections to fill vacancies.

The remedy I'm warming up to, however, would only hold a general election runoff if no primary winner earned 50% of the vote earned by every primary winner. So we'd compare Quigley, Pulido and Reichel (the D, R and G primary winners in March) and see the votes each of them earned. If none of them earned 50% of the vote, then we hold a runoff among those three nominees. If one did, then that candidate is elected. That gives Quigley 91% of the vote in March (with the R getting 7% and the G with 1%).

Vote by mail could help with the costs, but we're still stuck with the month-long delay in filling the seat. That's almost a worse problem, from my perspective. I wish Quigley would have been in the House during the federal budget debate pushing for more transit money. Kind of lame that we haven't had a legislator since January. So the sooner we can fill that seat, the better.