Article posted: 11/12/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Election commission ruling not just an issue of semantics

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There is little question that Kane County Circuit Court Judge David Akemann got it right when he ruled last Friday that the state legislation creating a Lake County Election Commission is unconstitutional. But there is much more to this issue than a matter of legal technicality.

That much is clear from the fact that not one of Illinois' 59 state senators will own up to inserting the commission language into a Senate amendment to House election legislation -- including chief sponsor Democrat Don Harmon of Oak Park and Waukegan Democrat Terry Link, the only Lake County senator to support it, though he steadfastly maintains he has no idea how the language made it into the bill.

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If no one in the credit-thirsty Illinois legislature wants to be associated with a provision of a bill that passed both houses and won the governor's signature, you know there's something toxic about that provision.

From the court's point of view -- with Akemann ruling in place of the Lake County judge who was a defendant in the legal case against the commission -- that toxicity was purely applied to the constitution.

The law sought to impose the election panel on "any county with a population of more than 700,000 persons ... that borders another state and borders no more than 2 other Illinois counties," a description that fits just one of Illinois' 102 counties -- Lake.

Akemann found that, in violation of constitutional prohibitions against legislation written for an isolated locality, there was nothing in that particular combination of factors -- population and borders with other states or counties -- to cry out for an election commission, and his conclusion seems indisputable.

But the most noxious poison in this bill had more to do with government arrogance and the subversion of democracy than with population or location.

If the citizens of Lake County believe they need an expensive external check on their county clerk in order to assure honest and efficient elections, they are certainly welcome to debate and design a separate election commission. But to have state lawmakers dictate everything from the size of the panel to its political makeup and operational rules, as this legislation did -- all for something that's not been identified as a problem -- is overreach of shocking proportions.

Akemann's ruling averts further political controversy -- the state House already had overwhelmingly voted to repeal the commission and further action was headed for the Senate -- but the larger message of this controversy must not be lost on political leaders.

Even in scandal-plagued and power-crazed Illinois -- and perhaps especially here -- the limits on legislative arrogance are matters defined not just by technical semantics but also by open political processes that demonstrate at least basic respect for the people to whom laws apply.

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