A little-noticed federal appellate panel ruling may trigger two elections for an Illinois Senate seat on Nov. 2 -- one to fill a new six-year term and, in a stunning development, another to elect someone to finish the remaining days of Barack Obama's original Senate term.
"There is still time to do it right," said Marty Oberman, the former Chicago alderman who is the lead attorney on the case. He argued that the 17th Amendment was violated by not having an election.
Oberman's lawsuit was not aimed at Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), but would have the practical effect of slicing a few weeks off of his Senate tenure, which was set to expire when a new senator from Illinois is sworn in on Jan. 3, 2011.
"Election officials are shellshocked" at the possibility of the concurrent -- and potentially costly -- elections, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman James Allen told me Tuesday.
You may have thought the matter of filling the Senate vacancy created when Obama was elected president was settled when then-Gov. Blagojevich, with much controversy, appointed Roland Burris.
Blagojevich's various alleged schemes to "sell" the appointment have been a subject of his criminal corruption trial.
Today, in the same building where Blagojevich is being tried, lawyers will gather in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge James F. Grady to deal with a June 16 decision handed down by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, written by Judge Diane Wood.
In essence, the decision said that Burris is only a temporary appointee until an election is held to fill the Obama seat. Wood handed the matter back to Grady to figure out the details, including how nominees would be chosen and if a primary -- which could cost the state millions of dollars -- would have to be held.
Allen told me, "It's nuts to spend $30 million for a special primary for someone to serve 30 days over the holidays.Shoe-horning a special primary into September will be a logistical nightmare that will threaten the November election. There are huge problems with the idea of programming, testing and deploying all of the election equipment for a statewide election in early September and then attempting to get all of the equipment back in the warehouse, repair it, re-program it, re-test it and redeploy it for voting that, by law, starts in early October. The November double-election for the same office creates some minor issues, but nothing compared to the problems and cost of cramming in a special primary in September."
Spokesmen for the campaigns of the major Illinois Senate contenders, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk told me it was premature to comment.
At a June 23 hearing before Grady, Assistant Illinois Attorney General Thomas Ioppolo disagreed with Oberman's argument that an election process could be streamlined and a costly primary could be avoided.
He told Grady the situation was "fraught" with the potential for voter confusion and asked for a rehearing.
Ioppolo told Grady that trying to supplant Burris "doesn't make sense"; the appellate panel did not understand how Illinois election law works; by the time an election would be certified in December there would be maybe 30 days left to Obama's original term, and who knows what the Senate would do because the senators ultimately decide who gets seated in the chamber.
Grady replied that all that "makes no difference whatsoever in my view. . . . There shall be an election."