No Money for Special Elections to Fill Obama’s Senate Seat
December 15, 2008Election officials statewide say they don't have the money to pay for a special election that could be held to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.
State legislators want to strip Gov. Rod Blagojevich of the power to appoint Obama's replacement after he was charged with trying to sell or trade the seat for personal gain. One way would be to hold a special election; another would be to impeach the governor.
Officials have floated statewide cost projections between $30 million and $50 million _ running individual counties anywhere from tens of thousand of dollars to as much as $8 million in Cook County's Chicago suburbs. Chicago's expenses could hit $16 million.
Clerks say they don't have that money in their budgets.
"We just hope the Legislature considers the additional expenses," said Stacey Kern, director of the Sangamon County election office in Springfield. "It's going to cost us. Hopefully they'll do right the thing and find some funds for us."
Madison County Clerk Mark Von Nida said although the money isn't there, the need for a special election is indisputable.
"It's necessary," Von Nida said. "The next part of that is to be mindful of the expense."
Clerks say being mindful could include setting the Senate special election to coincide with scheduled statewide municipal and township primaries Feb. 24 and general elections April 7, as a draft version of legislation to be considered Monday suggests.
Many clerks say coinciding elections would mitigate their costs, but they recognize a reluctance to leave Obama's seat open for months.
"I'm thinking the state isn't going to wait that long to appoint a senator. I just can't imagine that," said Craig Danekas, chief deputy county clerk for Winnebago County. He estimates an independent special election would cost his county $227,000.
State Republican leaders said Sunday the GOP fully supports a special election and plans to begin running television ads Monday urging Democrats to approve the idea.
Cook County clerk David Orr noted suburban Cook County could have up to three special elections, each with a primary and a general, at a cost of more than $12 million: one to replace Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Chicago, who must resign his seat to become Obama' chief of staff; another to fill Obama's vacant Senate seat; and yet another if a seated Congressman from Cook County is appointed or elected to the U.S. Senate.
Chicago Board of Election spokesman Jim Allen estimated a $13 million to $16 million price tag for a special election in the city, which he noted does not have elections planned for February and April.
Associated Press writers Christopher Wills in Springfield and Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.
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