With no budget deal in sight, Illinois General Assembly members continue working in other areas.
One of those topics has to do with how Illinoisans should be notified that a state constitutional amendment will be on an upcoming ballot.
Last fall, the road fund “lock box” amendment was publicized by the Illinois secretary of state’s office in two ways: publication of a legal notice in newspapers across the state, and the printing and mailing of millions of informational pamphlets to Illinois voters.
Voters went on to approve the proposal with a nearly 79 percent majority.
In tight financial times, is this the most efficient way to get the word out about constitutional amendments?
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington, doesn’t think so.
McSweeney sponsored a bill, which passed the House, 108-0, but is undergoing reconsideration, that would get the secretary of state’s office out of the pamphlet printing and mailing business.
McSweeney wants to see constitutional amendments publicized in newspapers, as before, and also posted on the secretary of state’s website.
No more would taxpayers have to pay for printing millions of pamphlets and the postage to mail them.
The cost savings per proposed constitutional amendment, McSweeney estimates, would be about $1.3 million.
We believe in widespread dissemination of information about elections.
We believe it’s worthwhile to spend taxpayer dollars to do so.
We also believe in cost-efficiency.
The question is, where do taxpayers get the best bang for their buck?
A study conducted by the News Media Alliance supports newspapers as a cost-efficient tool to inform voters of issues such as constitutional amendments.
The survey found:
1) Of people who voted in the last local election, 86 percent read newspapers in print or online; the levels of engagement are consistent for Democrats, Republicans and independents.
2) Young voters (ages 18 to 34) read newspapers in print or online at a 79 percent rate.
3) Of voters who contribute to campaigns, 91 percent read newspapers in print or online.
Not to mention that people are accustomed to relying on their local newspapers for information about elections.
The survey’s conclusion: To reach people who actually show up at the polls, newspapers are the way to go.
Turning toward printing and mailing pamphlets, McSweeney and others doubt the cost-effectiveness of that practice.
And their doubts are well-founded.
Think about it. During election season, the U.S. Postal Service is overloaded with direct-mail campaign attack ads – to the rising disgust of voters who can’t wait for the discord in their mailboxes to end.
A constitutional pamphlet arriving in the mail before Election Day easily could suffer the same fate as those loathed campaign mailers – being tossed, unread, into the trash.
In an era of debt, deficits and budget impasses, the state needs to shepherd its resources, not throw its money into the trash.
McSweeney’s bill recognizes this.
It should be approved by the full General Assembly and signed by the governor.