PI Original Josh Kalven Saturday October 4th, 2008, 2:16pm

Voters To Receive Notice About Misleading Con-Con Ballot Question

The fight over problematic language in the constitutional convention ballot language came to a head yesterday, as a Cook County judge considered conflicting proposals for how to remedy the situation in the 30 days before voters head to the polls in Illinois. While the court ...

The fight over problematic language in the constitutional convention ballot language came to a head yesterday, as a Cook County judge considered conflicting proposals for how to remedy the situation in the 30 days before voters head to the polls in Illinois. While the court ultimately rejected a resolution proposed by Con-Con proponents, the controversy has drawn additional attention to the issue and we're certain to hear more uproar in the weeks to come.

At issue are two particular passages in the ballot language.  One sentence informs voters that the Con-Con provision put before voters in 1988 -- the last time the electorate had the opportunity to hold a constitutional convention -- was handily defeated.  The other falsely asserts that a failure to vote on the question amounts to a nay vote.

On Wednesday, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Nathaniel Howse Jr. ruled that the question is both "misleading” and “inaccurate."  During an all-day session yesterday, Howse heard arguments from the plaintiffs -- Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and the Chicago Bar Association -- as well as from government officials, represented by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, Cook County Clerk David Orr, and Chicago elections authorities.

While the plaintiffs argued in favor of revising ballots and reprogramming electronic voting machines so voters would be faced with a fair and accurate question on Nov. 4, Howse ultimately ruled that such modifications would be too tough to pull off during the next 30 days.  Acknowledging that it wasn't the best solution, he instead opted in favor of a proposal to distribute paper notices to voters on Election Day cautioning them to essentially cover their eyes and “disregard” the biased and inaccurate part of the Con-Con question.  Click the image below to view the notice:

No doubt, it would have taken a small miracle for each of the state’s 110 election authorities to complete major ballot revisions this late in the game. Yesterday, the court heard plenty of tedious “expert” opinion on the risks of smudging or obscuring ballots with reprints and the hardship of tallying up to 8.3 million handwritten ballots statewide. By contrast, others testified that such changes were feasible.

The scenario was just “too risky” this close to the presidential election, Howse concluded.  If he allowed the bogus language to be blotted from the ballot and they were ruined during the printing process, voting in the presidential election could grind to a halt. Meanwhile, ordering separate, hand-counted Con-Con ballots would likely overwhelm election authorities.

One question that remains unresolved is who exactly is responsible for some of the faulty language in the ballot question.

Here’s what we know: In March, the General Assembly passed legislation creating the Joint Committee for the Constitutional Convention Proposal, which, according to the Legislative Research Unit, was to consist of "two members each appointed by the four legislative leaders."  Both chambers then adopted the committee's report -- which included the sentence about the 1988 results -- in May.  Yet no one seems to know the identities of the eight appointees who decided that this language belonged on the ballot.

Secretary of State Jesse White subsequently took the approved measure and sent it to along to the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE), where it was certified in August. ISBE also added the inaccurate language asserting that a failure to vote on the Con-Con question amounts to a "no" vote.  Con-Con proponents only got wind of the faulty ballot question when White's office released a pamphlet last month advising voters of the ballot question and educating them on the pros and cons of a constitutional convention.

As of yesterday, Quinn hadn't decided if he'll appeal the ruling.

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