Two proposed constitutional amendments to appear on Nov. 4 ballot

By Alex Swanson

Illinois voters must decide whether or not to enact two constitutional amendments, appearing on the Nov. 4 general election ballot this fall.

House Speaker Michael Madigan introduced an anti-voter discrimination measure, HJRCA 52, on March 25. The measure stipulates that no prospective voter can be denied the right to register to vote based on his or her “race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation or income,” according to the amendment.

The proposed amendment passed the House on April 8 and passed the Senate on April 10. 

Steve Brown, Madigan’s press secretary, said this measure is largely a response to voter restriction methods that have been enforced in nine other states. Brown stated, in his opinion, that those restrictions are forms of voter suppression.

“When that right to vote is abridged by a whole bunch of different requirements, or cutting back on early-voting periods, or having all kinds of complicated rules about registration, or identification cards,” Brown said, “Then you know that’s just an effort to suppress the vote.” 

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Extra voting measures, like those mentioned by Brown, can discourage low income citizens, and often times minorities, from voting.

“We don’t want Illinois to ever be subject to some of the different things that are going on in other states around the country,” Brown said. 

Often times low-income and minority citizens happen to be members of the Democratic Party. However, Brown emphasized that Madigan’s proposal is not a partisan measure. He said it’s simply about preserving peoples’ right to vote, regardless of political affiliation. 

The other proposed amendment, commonly known as Marsy’s Law, if successful, could guarantee more rights for victims in criminal and court proceedings. The amendment, HJRCA 1, was introduced to the House by Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, on Dec. 10, 2012. It passed the House on April 2 and the Senate on April 10.

The legislation is based on Marsy’s Law in California. The amendment to the California Constitution was approved in the 2008 general election. 

Lang, spoke to his motivation for backing the measure. 

“Some judges and some state’s attorneys have not afforded these folks their full rights under the constitution,” Lang said. “I was approached by many advocates in this area, some of whom were crime victims themselves, and asked me if I would be helpful to them.” 

In the colonial days of the American criminal justice system, when a crime was committed, the victims represented themselves, said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, the director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois. There were no prosecuting lawyers aside from the victims, and therefore there was no need for language defending victims’ rights in the United States Constitution. 

“There was no question that the victim would participate in the case, because the victims were the prosecutors.” Bishop-Jenkins said, “So, there was no issue that needed to be protected in terms of protecting the role of the victim in the case. That was automatic in those days.” 

But now, with the apparent changes to the American justice system, Bishop-Jenkins is pushing for a change in the way victims’ rights are handled in Illinois. Victims’ rights were added in 1992 to the Illinois Constitution, but they were more or less unenforceable.   

The amendment would allow victims the right to be present at the trials and hearings that concern them, to be notified of court proceedings and to have the right to provide a written statement about the personal effect of the crime. It would also guarantee timely action regarding victims’ requests as well as greater access to post trial proceedings. Finally, victims would be allowed to appeal decisions by the court that directly affect their personal rights. 

This amendment would give standing to the victims, meaning more direct access and communication with the judge and the prosecutors in the case.

She gave several examples of where victim’s rights in Illinois have been mistreated. She said that occasionally a prosecutor might put victims on the witness list, never intending to call them, so that the jury wouldn’t have to see the victim, who may be emotional, in the courtroom. 

Bishop-Jenkins emphasized the fact that, even with this proposed amendment, victims are not a party to the trial. 

“We (victims) don’t have any power or control over the case,” said Bishop-Jenkins, “The rights of the victims are very limited, but they are important to protect the victims who have been, obviously, incredibly harmed by the crime to make sure they aren’t further harmed.” 

Both proposed amendments will pass into law if they gain the support of either three-fifths of those voting on the amendment or a majority of those voting in the election.

Alex can be reached at [email protected]