The Election File Voting Guide: A Blagojevich-inspired constitutional amendment

October 27, 2010

Yesterday we looked at those often-overlooked elections for judges in Illinois. Today we look at a question on the ballot that’s also flown a bit under the radar this year: recall.

Voters are being asked whether they want to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow governors to be recalled – that is, removed from office before their terms are up. We delved into this issue in a recent radio story, but here are the basics:

The question

This is how the recall amendment will show up on your ballot:

The proposed amendment, which takes effect upon approval by the voters, adds a new section to the Suffrage and Elections Article of the Illinois Constitution. The new section would provide the State's electors with an option to petition for a special election to recall a Governor and for the special election of a successor Governor. At the general election to be held on November 2, 2010, you will be called upon to decide whether the proposed amendment should become part of the Illinois Constitution.
 
If you believe the Illinois Constitution should be amended to provide for a special election to recall a Governor and for a special election to elect a successor Governor, you should vote “YES” on the question. If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to provide for a special election to recall a Governor and for a special election to elect a successor Governor, you should vote “NO” on the question. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election must vote “YES” in order for the amendment to become effective.
How it would work
 
If the proposed amendment passes, this is how the recall process would work: 
  1. A citizen or group of citizens gets mad and decides to try to recall the governor.
  2. The recall proponents get 10 state senators and 20 state representatives to sign on to an affidavit in support of recall. This needs to be a bipartisan effort, with no more than half the signatures from members of any given party. The affidavit is then filed with the state board of elections.
  3. The circulators have 150 days to collect what will amount to several hundred thousand signatures. The exact number is 15-percent of the total votes cast in the previous election for governor. To ensure geographic diversity, the petition will need at least 100 signatures from each of at least 25 Illinois counties.
  4. Within 100 days after the petition is turned in, the election board must determine whether enough signatures were collected. If all is good, the state has another 100 days to hold a special election for the recall of the governor.
  5. Candidates for governor will appear on the ballot at the same time voters decide whether to recall the sitting governor. This will act as the primary election.
  6. If the governor is recalled, the lieutenant governor will take over, and an election with the primary winners will be held within 60 days. The winner serves out the remainder of the recalled governor’s term.
The proponents

Gov. Pat Quinn often touts the recall proposal among his accomplishments during the “year of reform” he says occurred following Rod Blagojevich’s arrest. On the evening that the verdicts were returned in the Blagojevich case, Quinn laid out his argument in favor of the recall amendment:

We must be vigilant. We must make sure that we strengthen the people. That’s why I believe in the power of recall. That voters, when they see a public official – such as a governor – betraying the public trust, that the voters have the power by petition and recall referendum to remove that person from office before his or her term is up. We will have on our ballot in Illinois this year a chance for the voters – for the first time in our history – to vote for a recall amendment in our constitution. I believe in recall. I think that the events of the past years, the past decade, underline the need for recall in Illinois.
The critics
 
Some critics – although on this issue there are not many in the General Assembly – object to the very idea of recall. State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie is the second-ranking Democrat in the House. Currie has a long list of the problems she thinks recall could bring to Illinois:
  • Recall efforts could be launched by special interests: “Millionaires or deep-pocket special interest groups are usually the ones that spearhead the idea of putting a recall motion on the ballot.”
  • Recall efforts could be launched by political losers: “It really gives a second bite – or maybe a third or a fourth bite – at the apple to the people who lost the last time there was an election.
  • Politicians could become more poll-driven: “If you're worried about recall, and you would be if recall is an option, you might be more driven by public opinion than by the backbone that the people hope you will show when you are in office than otherwise.”
  • Reasons for recall aren’t fully spelled out in the amendment: “You can recall someone because you don't like the way he brushes his hair.”
  • Governors already face regular elections every four years: “By the time you get around to counting a recall, the chances are good it’s time for another election.
  • Governors can already be removed: “In cases of serious abuse, serious violations of the public trust, we have impeachment,” which Currie calls “a faster solution than recall ever would be.”
 
There are others, like state Rep. Dave Winters, who support the idea of recall, but think the proposal on the ballot is so watered down that’s it’s not even worth it. Winters (who voted for the bill in the Illinois House, but now says he’ll vote against it at the polling place) objects to the requirement that a bipartisan group of state lawmakers sign on to the recall proposal. He also thinks voters should have the option of recalling all statewide officials and members of the General Assembly.  “I don't really think it moves the state very far forward," he told me. “If this fails, it gives us the opportunity to come back and hope that we can get a stronger recall amendment in the next General Assembly.”
 
The rebuttal
 
Quinn, long a supporter of recall, dismisses the complaints. He says the requirement that a bipartisan group of legislators sign a recall affidavit is part of a “reasonable process.”
By no means is it a majority of legislators, as it would be in a process like…impeachment. It’s a more political process, where…the voters decide the final verdict. However, I think the proposal that is going to be on the ballot makes sure that recall will be used seriously and not frivolously. It should be only used in those dire circumstances where there’s a real question whether the incumbent is betraying the public’s trust. It should not be used as a political tool against somebody.
But is it an unconstitutional constitutional amendment?
 
The ACLU of Illinois says it started looking at the proposed amendment a few weeks ago when it started getting calls. Turns out, the ACLU argues, this proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution actually violates the U.S Constitution.
 
The group’s legal director, Harvey Grossman, says he has no problem with recall in general. But he says the way Illinois’ proposed amendment is written, it would give more of a say to voters in less-populated counties. That’s because of the bolded portion (below) of the amendment:
The recall of the Governor may be proposed by a 15 petition signed by a number of electors equal in number to at 16 least 15% of the total votes cast for Governor in the preceding 17 gubernatorial election, with at least 100 signatures from each 18 of at least 25 separate counties.
Grossman says that requirement is “unconstitutional and unfair.”
The [U.S.] Supreme Court long ago established the doctrine of ‘one person, one vote.’ But in Illinois, under that proposed constitutional amendment, voters who live in less-populous counties will have their signatures on a petition for recall count more than persons who sign and live more populous counties.
Grossman explains further that the 24 most-populous counties in Illinois make up about 84 percent of the registered voters in Illinois. But they alone couldn’t advance the proposal without 100 signatures from one of the 78 smaller counties. Meanwhile, those 78 counties, representing far less of the state’s population, could advance a recall without any support at all from the most-populous 24 counties. Bottom-line, Grossman says, “84 percent of the electorate in 24 counties can’t do – under the signature requirement – what 16-percent of the voters can do in 78 counties.” And that, he says, is unconstitutional.

I called the sponsor of the recall proposal to see what he thinks of the ACLU’s concern. State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo:
I’m not sure they’re right. Then again I’m not sure they’re wrong. And I’d hate to see a court have to decide that. Nonetheless, I’m encouraging everyone to vote for it. I think the voters need to be heard – the citizens need to be heard – that we need a recall amendment. And my goal all along was to have a much broader recall amendment - one that included all the constitutional officers as well as all the members of the General Assembly. So I think if we have a resounding ‘yes’ vote on this, it would give me more power in the General Assembly to pass a more sweeping recall bill that we can put on the ballot next time, as well. So I’m asking people to vote for it to show their support for recall.
The newspaper editorial boards are split