Judge: Ballot language is unconstitutional

Ann Knef Oct. 3, 2008, 3:59am


No matter what the final remedy is, election officials in Illinois will have to modify ballots before Nov. 4.

At a hearing Wednesday in Chicago, Cook County Circuit Judge Nathaniel Howse, Jr. ordered the language of a Constitutional Convention ballot referendum modified calling aspects of the proposal "downright misleading."

He also ordered election officials to stop mailing or distributing absentee and military ballots until the matter is resolved.

A hearing will be held at 9 a.m. today for the parties to submit their proposed remedies.

Last week St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney said it would be a "disaster" to reprint and resend revised ballots. He said the cost would be "astronomical" in terms of printing and overtime pay for workers.

The ballot referendum, which asks voters -- yes or no -- "do you believe the 1970 Illinois Constitution needs to be revised through the convention process?" has sparked controversy because of flawed wording and the process it went through to become certified.

Howse presides over two lawsuits that have been joined against Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and the State Board of Elections. The suits seek to prevent voters from voting on a defective ballot.

The Chicago Bar Association, a plaintiff, argues that the ballot contains an explanation that is "manifestly argumentative and biased."

The certified ballot also contains a notice which states in bold face type, "The failure to vote this ballot is the equivalent of a negative vote."

Howse said that language "is not 100 percent true" and "interferes with the voters' right to freely and fairly and effectively cast his vote."

"I have heard a lot of about how much this is going to cost and the time frame, and I am cognizant of the struggles that counties are having including Cook County with its budget," Howse said.

At Wednesday's hearing "inking out" the controversial language on the ballot was proposed.

But attorney James Scanlon of Chicago, on behalf of intervening defendant the Chicago Board of Elections, said that would create a risk of bleeding through on the other side of the ballot.

"...[W]e would create a lot of problems up and down in the other elections, and Illinois would be the state still counting ballots Friday morning after November 5th," Howse said. "So I don't want that to happen."

Attorney Steve Pflaum of Chicago, representing the Chicago Bar Association as plaintiff in the suit, said his client advocates "a solution that ensures that voters vote without seeing the unconstitutional language."

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