Chicago's Special Election is a Waste: Fill Vacancies in One Election, Not Two

Dan Johnson-Weinberger // Published April 7, 2009 in Huffington Post

Former FairVote analyst Dan Johnson-Weinberger says Illinois should fill vacant house seats in a single election. Among his proposed solutions is instant runoff voting.

Today's special general election between Mike Quigley, Rosanna Pulido and Matt Reichel is a waste of time, money and resources. Taxpayers will shell out almost two million dollars to hold an election in the state's 5th Congressional District with only three names on the ballot. And the result of the election - the Democratic nominee is going to win - has been a foregone conclusion for a month.

The seat has been vacant since January. Meanwhile, during the debate on the federal stimulus and budget, the 600,000 people of the 5th CD have been without a voice in the House. That's not good, because we have literally lost our seat at the congressional table while federal policy is made. Our election laws should fill a vacancy as quickly as possible to minimize the loss of our political clout.

In this case, the people spoke clearly last month in the primary election: they want a Democrat to represent them in the House.

Look at the numbers from the March 3rd primary: Mike Quigley, Democrat, earned 12,118 votes. Rosanna Pulido, Republican, earned 1,006 while Matt Reichel, Green, earned 166. That's 91% for Quigley, 8% for Pulido and 1% for Reichel. That's a landslide. So why are we going through the motion of another election today between these three people when Quigley has already earned 91% of the vote last month? Why can't we give the people what they already voted for?

Illinois should fill a congressional vacancy in one election, not two, particularly when the results are so clear. There are several ways to do it. We could replicate Chicago's municipal elections where there is a runoff only if no candidate earns a majority of the vote. We could count a vote in the primary election as a straight ticket vote in the general election for whoever the nominee will be. Or we could use Irish-style instant runoff voting where voters rank all the candidates.

But whatever the method, we should absolutely not continue to waste two million dollars and minimize our own clout by waiting a month to finally elect a Representative in a second election when we could get the job done in one day.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger is an attorney. He lobbies for election reforms for FairVote.