A voter prepares to cast his vote in the state primary at a laundromat March 20, 2012 in Chicago.
Patrick Collins, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who led the prosecution of former Gov. George Ryan, thinks moving the primary election from March to June would be a step toward curing the cynicism and influence of money and machines that make Illinois the most corrupt state in the nation.
A winter primary, he writes in the new anthology Twenty-First Century Chicago, “effectively provides a built-in benefit to the incumbent candidates and detriment to the challengers. It is these ‘Incumbent Protection Act’ provisions that make a fraud-weary citizenry even more cynical and thereby less likely to engage in the political process.”
Here are Collins’s arguments against the winter primary, which is the earliest in the nation. The next-earliest states, North Carolina and West Virginia, vote in early May. The latest state, Hawaii, votes in mid-September.
1. Given the cold and probable inclement weather, we all but guarantee a lower turnout
2. We unfairly ask for candidates to compete with the holiday season for the public’s attention
3. We hold elections before the commencement of the legislative session and thereby deny voters the right to evaluate the candidates based on the success (or failure) of that legislative session
4. We dramatically lengthen the general election campaign, which typically is more costly and thus requires greater fundraising. The longer campaign cycle also diverts government officials’ focus away from their important job of governing.
This helps answer the eternal question of why Illinois is shadier than other states. Unfortunately, Collins lays out the reasons that party bosses such as House Speaker Michael Madigan want to keep the primary in March.
Madigan has spent most of his life building up the money and the organization required to win elections held on that schedule. He’s not going to change a calendar that’s been working for him for 40 years.
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