Late-session election bill stirs House debate
Tensions ran high during a House Executive Committee hearing about a bill that amends state election laws.
Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said the main purpose of Senate Bill 1863 is to give the broadest possible voter access to ballots and to enhance election security and viability of the election process. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) asked several questions about the bill, including a provision requiring county clerks to pick up the cost of absentee ballots that do not have postage.
"I certainly agree it should not be refused, but why are we mandating that our clerks have to do this?" Butler asked. "Shouldn’t that be up to the clerks?"
Butler said he could envision a campaign where a candidate urged absentee voters to send in their ballots without postage and it would be a substantial cost on the county.
Butler also questioned a potential amendment in the works, which Harris said would address a capital township issue.
"It’s not addressing — it’s gutting the way we’ve done things for over 100 years," Butler said. "You know what, you guys can do what you want. This happens every session we’ve seen. You come up with omnibus election bills that screw the other party. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you’ve done for a long time."
Butler said election bills used to be bipartisan.
"I always tell the majority it might be long after I’m gone here but be careful what you wish for because one of these days, and I might be dead and in the ground, but Republicans are going to hold the gavel and all this stuff is going to come home to roost," Butler said.
Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said that he has seen a lot of bills that present themselves with a surprise poison, but nothing until now that "literally poisons everything."
"There are people in this room and lots in this building who want to work together, get things done and cooperate in a bipartisan way to elect more people who want to work together," Spain said. "In this state, with this bill, we’re taking ourselves further in the other direction. I want more people working in this General Assembly that are aligned toward compromise, bipartisan cooperation and a willingness to work together. Greg, I’m disappointed with how this is coming forward and taking us so far in the wrong direction with the provisions Rep. Butler identified."
Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) became angry, accusing Republicans of being disrespectful to Democratic leaders, to which Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-North Aurora) said he did not believe anyone was disrespecting Harris.
"We’ve disagreed on things and we’ve always done so amicably and I believe that’s being done again today," Wheeler said. "But, there are frustrations. This bill has some things in it that appear to be less than veiled threats to some members of the Republican party based on how the bill is structured. I believe those things are done in a respectful manner. Someday, things do turn around and what we do for one is considered for the other. Had this bill been done in a bipartisan manner as Rep. Butler suggested, I think we would not have had this discussion this way today. It's the end of session and tempers are running high and some of this is very frustrating."
Rep. Chris Welch (D-Westchester) said everyone wants fair elections.
"I agree with Rep. Arroyo that sometimes our tone can be misinterpreted as disrespectful," Welch said. "You respect our leaders and we will respect yours."
The committee voted 8-5 to favorably report the bill to the House floor.