Daily Herald Opinion: Democrats ramrod questionable election bill in midst of ongoing campaign

How discouraging it can be to see what it takes to get Illinois lawmakers to act with some sense of urgency. For four months, they couldn’t make a decision, up or down, on a simple proposal involving mandatory driving tests for seniors, so House leaders sent it back to the Rules Committee to die. Last week, someone came up with an idea for saving candidates the expense of a general election campaign, and they managed to get it introduced on a Wednesday morning, then passed through both Houses and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker by Friday.

The idea behind the bill itself is not all that bad. Senate Bill 2412, which started out as a measure involving DCFS but had all its text replaced by new, unrelated language, prevents political parties from slating candidates for a general election if no one has won the party’s primary. There has always been something unsettling about party insiders gathering after a primary election to anoint a person to fill a ballot position in the general election if the party had not had a representative on the primary ballot. Why should they get a post-election do-over when they hadn’t been able to get someone interested enough to collect signatures and make the primary ballot?

But the process did assure that voters would face a choice in the general election. Beyond that, the issue at least deserved public discussion, and ramrodding it through to passage in the literal middle of an ongoing campaign was the picture of majority-party contempt for voters. What skin-crawling effrontery, then, to cloak the bill in the language of election reform, with Pritzker even going so far as to dub it “actually an ethics bill.”

Actually, there is nothing remotely ethical about the way this legislation was handled. Quite the contrary.

Democrats — who rule both chambers and hold the governor’s seat — were happy to duck behind the defense that the legislation affects both parties, though pushing it through during an active campaign hardly affects them equally. Eight of nine affected state Senate campaigns from the March primary involved Democrats, as did 36 of the 54 affected campaigns for House seats.

Why, one wonders, do things have to be this way? Democrats have little to worry about at the ballot box in Illinois. Even if Republicans had managed to slate opposition in all those House and Senate races, they realistically would not have had much chance of winning. And even if the legislation is so important that it deserves passage, it could have waited to take effect in a later campaign without giving skeptical voters yet another reason to see conspiracy and corruption among political leaders, particularly Democratic political leaders.

Instead of acting with transparency and integrity, Democrats acted with stealth and cunning to provide a vivid demonstration of the very backroom politics they claim to be fighting. They really ought to be ashamed — not just of the duplicity they showed in manufacturing this charade but more for passing up the opportunity to show some class and restraint when it would have cost them next to nothing.

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