EYE ON ILLINOIS: House dropped ball on remote meeting, voting rules bills

Illinois lawmakers, long known for the ability to help themselves, nevertheless failed to take advantage of a couple of key opportunities to do so during last week’s lame duck session.

Legislators inexplicably let the gavel drop on the 101st General Assembly without approving a plan for remote meetings and votes during the 102nd. This despite coming a single vote shy of a plan during May’s mad dash to adopt a budget, several months to live and work during a pandemic (with a handful of lawmakers testing positive for COVID-19) and then a unanimous Senate vote on a remote voting bill.

Shortly after the House adjourned without holding up its end, the House Speaker’s chief of staff sent notice of her positive test, indicating she was aware of two others. Even those fully optimistic about recent coronavirus data and vaccine deployment have to be pragmatic enough to acknowledge the upside of planning now for the next lockdown, whether it be a COVID flareup or some other disease.

Ideally we never again experience something with such broad impact on society, but going through this without learning any lessons is a failure on many levels.

That same logic makes it difficult to process the House’s failure to even consider a mail-in voting bill the Senate endorsed 40-18. After just experiencing a pandemic presidential election and barreling toward consolidated primaries throughout the state next month, as well as municipal elections all over in April, what exactly is the logic in punting this decision?

The bill called for drop boxes for absentee ballots, which addresses concerns about the security, speed and cost of using the postal service, and established protocol for Election Day curbside voting at precinct sites. The bill tasked the Illinois State Board of Elections with drafting guidelines for securing dropbox sites.

Given how strongly the Senate endorsed both measures it’s not difficult to envision them resurfacing when that chamber returns Jan. 26. But the House has just two perfunctory session dates remaining this month and doesn’t come back for real until Groundhog Day. Leaving remote voting unresolved until then is hopefully of little consequence, but the timeline of the winter and spring elections demanded action in January.

Perhaps because these legislators won’t be on the upcoming ballots they’re less concerned about the process, but surely they can count colleagues among the many candidates, to say nothing of concerns for constituents, both voters and election workers. This was a clear opportunity to dictate to state policy rather than leaving decisions for the county level, and that abdication promotes inequality of access to a primary right.

With new leadership, some new members and hopefully new rules, the General Assembly is overdue for a reset.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.