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Why The Rush? Term Limits Decision Time Deadline, Explained

Bruce Rauner

Even though Illinois' general election is months away, a controversial ballot question could be answered by the end of this week. Friday is the deadline for a term limits initiative to make it on the ballot.

Republican's nominee for governor, Bruce Rauner, has made instituting term limits for legislators a central plank of his campaign.

That would require a constitutional amendment. Rauner funded an effort to collected a half million signatures, so that the question could go before voters this fall.

But a Cook County judge ruled it unconstitutional. There's a chance the status could change - an appeals court just heard oral arguments last week.

The clock is ticking though. Illinois State Board of Elections Director Rupert Borgsmiller says the Aug. 22 date for certifying the ballot stands firm. That's not the board's choice; it's state law, he said. It may seem early, given that the election isn't until November.

"But you've got absentee balloting, you've got the UOCAVA (Uniformed and Overseas Citizens and Absentee Voting Act) ballots which have to be sent out 45 days in advance of the elections, or early votings," he said.

As in, though the deadline for voters to cast their ballots is Nov. 4, elections authorities have earlier deadlines to meet, like sending ballots to military serving overseas. By federal law, their ballots have to be in the mail by Sept. 20.

"So I mean, you have a very small window to get those ballots to your printer, get them printed, and then be able to start distributing them," Borgsmiller said.

If approved, legislators would be limited to eight year terms.

Rauner is scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday in Springfield on his plans for pursuing term limits. His plan does not apply to statewide constitutional offices, like governor, though Rauner has said he if elected, he would only stay on for eight years.

Rauner's opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn, has panned Rauner's effort, but in 1994 it was Quinn (then Illinois' treasurer) who attempted to limit legislators' terms, but it, too, was found unconstitutional. The Illinois Supreme Court found that it went beyond making "structural" or "procedural" changes to the legislature.

The state's high court turned down, without comment, a request by Rauner's group to take up the appeal on an expeditated basis.

In additional to the legislative limits, Rauner's citizen's initiative calls for growing the number of House members while reducing the size of the Illinois Senate. It would also effectively increase future governors' power, by making it harder for General Assembly to overturn a veto.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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