Election officials begin review of constitutional amendments

2014-05-05T00:00:00Z Election officials begin review of constitutional amendmentsKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
May 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | In an aging strip mall a few doors down from a dollar store and a Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant, Illinois' political future is being decided.

Within the capital city headquarters of the Illinois State Board of Elections, a team of nearly 20 workers is in the midst of sifting through more than 100,000 pages of petitions designed to put two proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot.

It is tedious work.

In order to conduct a review of the signatures to ensure each ballot initiative has enough signatures to appear on the ballot, workers are scanning each piece of paper to create a digital record.

Once that job is complete, a second group will begin scanning a selection of the signatures collected over the past six months. In all, the process could take weeks.

"We really have no way of verifying how long it will take," said state elections chief Rupert Borgsmiller.

The election board's work on the proposed amendments began Wednesday when the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits showed up at the offices with a 36-foot-long box filled with 67,976 pieces of paper holding more than 590,000 signatures.

The group, chaired by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, wants voters to decide whether to limit the terms of lawmakers to eight years. The proposal also asks whether to make it tougher for the General Assembly to override a governor's veto, as well as alters the number of House and Senate districts.

On Thursday, the Yes For Independent Maps coalition dropped off a 27-foot box filled with about 37,000 pieces of paper holding more than 532,000 signatures.

The group is asking voters to back a new, less political way of drawing the state's political maps.

Borgsmiller said if each piece of paper turned in by the groups were laid end to end, the paper trail would stretch 33 miles. He said he's not experienced anything of the sort in his four decades in state government.

"Hopefully, we'll learn through this process what we've done right and what we've gone wrong," Borgsmiller said.

In the scanning room, a team of technicians and temporary workers huddle around eight high-tech scanners. Once the paper is digitized, a review of the signatures begins.

Rather than view each signature to ensure they are from registered voters, staffers will do a random test of 5 percent of the signatures.

"We're trying to break this process down into manageable bundles," Borgsmiller said.

Eventually, the validity of the proposed referendums will go before the full board of elections.

The process underway at the state Board of Elections offices, however, isn't the only venue where the fate of the two proposals could be determined.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks to keep both initiatives off the ballot based on a number of technical issues. In addition, citizens could file an objection with the state board arguing the groups failed to submit enough valid signatures to get on the ballot.

Borgsmiller acknowledged Friday that there are a lot of moving parts involved in bringing a question to the ballot,

"It's a daunting task to do this," he said.

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