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Voters in the Nov. 4 election will have the opportunity to weigh in on two proposed amendments to the Illinois State Constitution, in addition to voting for their chosen candidates for Congress and state and county offices. One, a proposed amendment to Section 8 of Article I, the State’s Bill of Rights, grants additional rights to victims of crimes. The other, an amendment to Article III, on suffrage and elections, increases the protection of voting rights.

Information provided by Secretary of State Jesse White gives an explanation of each amendment and arguments in favor of and against each proposed amendment.

Crime Victim’s Rights

According to the Secretary of State’s information, Section 8.1 of Article I would be ammended to provide additional protections for crime victims: 1) the right to a formal notice and hearing before a court would rule on any request for access to privileged or confidential information about that victim; 2) the right to have a judge consider the safety of a victim and his or her family before deciding whether to release a defendant from prison and the conditions of that release and how much bail should be set.

Arguments in favor of the proposed amendment include the merit of stronger Constitutional protections for crime victims, so they would not have to fear intimidation and harassment when they participate in the criminal justice process, so they can object when the defense seeks personal information, and so they would have a way to enforce their rights.

Arguments against the proposed amendment are that the provisions of the amendment would disrupt the criminal justice process and impede the work of prosecutors, the victims of crimes already have extensive rights under the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act and that the proposed amendment threatens the rights of criminal defendants both innocent and guilty.

Voter Discrimination

Section 8 of Article 3 would read “No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”

According to the Secretary of State’s information, the proposed amendment would prohibit any law or procedure that intentionally discriminates or has an unequal effect upon the right of a person to vote, if that law or procedure is based on any of those classes mentioned. It does not change the requirements for voting.

The argument in favor of the proposed amendment is that it is a demonstration that the people of Illinois believe all eligible Illinois citizens have a fundamental right to vote. Arguments against the proposal is that it is not necessary for two reasons: 1) Many of these protections are already provided by federal law; 2) the proponents of the amendment have not identified instances of voter discrimination in Illinois that would justify a State cause of action; and 3) approving the amendment would increase litigation.

Each of these proposed amendments is a binding amendment, that is, a majority of voters must approve them before they become part of the Constitution. Voters will have a chance to vote “yes” or “no” on each proposed amendment.

Voters in Cook County will also have the opportunity to weigh in on five advisory referenda. An advisory referendum essentially takes the “temperature” of the voters regarding certain issues. Approval of a referendum does not bind a legislative body to action.

Three of these are statewide:  1) whether the minimum wage should be increased to $10 per hour, effective Jan.1, 2015; 2) whether state health insurance plans that provide prescription drug coverage should be required to include prescription birth control pills; and 3) whether voters would like to see a Constitutional amendment levying an additional 3% tax on income above $1 million, with some of that tax revenue apportioned to public school districts.

Two referenda will appear only on the Cook County ballot: 1) whether the State legislature should appropriate additional funds for mental health services; and 2) whether the State legislature should enact Senate Bill 3659, which would require universal background checks for firearms transfers and prohibit the sale and transfer of assault weapons, assault weapons attachments and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Early voting continues through Nov. 2. Information about polling places, etc. is available at cookcountyclerk.com.

Voting Information

Cook County Clerk David Orr has announced the hours and locations for early voting, grace-period registration and voting, and election day registration and voting for the Nov. 4 Gubernatorial Election.

Suburban Cook County voters may vote though Nov. 2 at any of the 43 early voting locations, one of which is the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. There will also be  grace-period registration and voting at the Civic Center.

Voters can review a list of candidates and referenda, see their sample ballot, find their polling place, and check their voter registration status at the Voter Information page of the Clerk’s website, cookcountyclerk.com.

The voter information page has also been tailored for mobile devices, and can be used (and bookmarked) on smartphones and tablets via                      cookcountyclerk.com. No app or other download is necessary.