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Guest Column: Does the November constitutional amendment deceive voters?

October 31, 2012

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 summary “explanation.”

Oct. 17, John Bambenek, a senate candidate from Champaign, Ill., 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 non-binding.

The ballot’s summary “explanation” is provided by the same Springfield leadership that made Illinois the state with the nation’s worst state budgetary crisis — including $83 billion in projected liabilities.

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 Sept. 17 opposing the proposed 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 Illinois Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, the proposed amendment is receiving opposition across the political spectrum, but in particular, the constitutional amendment contains provisions 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 more than 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 Secretary of State Jesse White’s (D) 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 Nov. 6 who never received the pamphlet. [Editor’s note: The constitutional amendment has appeared as a legal notice advertisement in The Rock River Times.]

Additionally, the statewide pamphlet is only printed in English, while summary “explanations” in both English and Spanish are printed on the Chicago-area ballots to accommodate perceived bilingual necessities.

In advance of voting, voters must solicit their translations in “English, Chinese, Polish, Hindi and Spanish” by contacting the Secretary of State’s office. Civil libertarians could easily raise the issue, for example, of whether Spanish-speaking voters are being directly or indirectly misled or disenfranchised.

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, such as the Champaign County 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.

Arguably, 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 would vest in the same leaders who saddled Illinois with $83 billion in projected 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. He is a resident of Mahomet, Ill.

Posted Oct. 31, 2012

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