Primary election changes defeated

Published: 4/1/2009 5:14 PM

SPRINGFIELD - Voters will still be required to disclose their political party before casting a ballot in a primary election, after a proposal allowing open primaries was voted down Wednesday in the Illinois Senate.

"We have been hearing about this for years, it's usually brought up by whoever is out of office at that time," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who voted against the plan. "It's not, 'Oh, I would like to vote for somebody in the other party.' It's interfering with other parties."

Under the plan, voters still could only have voted in one party's primary, but the choice of party would have been made by each voter on the machine in the privacy of the voting booth. In states with open primaries that use optical scan ballots all of the parties are listed in separate columns on a single ballot.

Open primaries would also cost candidates more money to run a campaign, argued state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican who voted against the plan.

"Instead of targeting people who show up in primaries and limiting your campaign costs, you are now going to have to target more broadly the entire electorate in your primary," Murphy said. "This is going to drive up the cost of primaries. It's going to make the need for campaign cash even greater."

But Murphy's argument did not persuade fellow Republican state Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon.

"People are sending a message that they want the process opened up," Righter said. "The perception that it casts here when we say we're not for this is: we want to keep our lists clean, we want to make sure we know who to send mail to. That should not be what we're doing here."

The 59-member state Senate rejected the plan 17-37, with five members not voting.

Proponents argued voters deserve to be able to keep their choice of political party secret. This is particularly important to state employees who could face retribution for voting for the "wrong" party, said the plan's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield.

"Regarding public employees hiring and firing, it would have to be based on one's ability rather than one's political affiliation," Bomke said. "Passage of this bill is a good start in cleaning up corruption in politics that Illinois has become renowned for."