This editorial appeared in the Oct. 27, 2019, edition of The (Moline) Dispatch and Rock Island Argus:
Advocates of right-sizing Illinois government have suspected for months that judges would determine the fate of a new state law that gives local voters more power to decide how they are governed.
We were among those predicting in August, for example, that McHenry County township officials would immediately get to work crafting strategies to get around a law just signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that reduced the draconian petition signature requirements that have historically kept local government citizen referendums from getting before voters.
It is, after all, standard operating procedure for elected officials whose power is threatened to do an end run around voters by seeking the assistance of courts friendly to the cause of government and elected officials.
We suspect, of course, that many of the supporters of township government in McHenry County truly believe the work these local officials do is important and that those officials know better than voters who should do it and how.
We, however, believe that in a democracy, those choices belong to the voters, not the people they elect to serve at their pleasure. Citizen initiatives like this do that by giving voters the opportunity to change governments that don't work, and to support governments that do.
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Unfortunately, motivated self-interest also is a powerful thing, and we suspect that is at least part of the reason some supporters of two township road districts in McHenry County --- Nunda and McHenry townships -- filed suit last week challenging the constitutionality of the new law.
It's hard to imagine that Illinois judges at any level would find it unconstitutional to give voters the power to choose their form of government. Still, there are plenty of worrisome precedents — for example, the Illinois Supreme Court's rejection of a fair map petition signed by more than half a million Illinoisans — to justify concerns that Illinois courts will side with the rights of government officials over the governed here.
Also predictably — and wisely — township officials and supporters aren't counting only on the courts to beat back these downsizing efforts. According to Capitol News Illinois, McHenry Township advocates have filed a petition with 1,000 signatures to put the question of township government dissolution on the March 2020 ballot. Reformers had hoped to go before voters in the November presidential election, when turnout will be much higher and prospects are always better for passing a populist measure such as this one. Instead, if the law survives, the referendum is expected to be considered in a primary election, where it will be easier for township advocates to persuade enough voters to impact the outcome.
At least a March vote would give the campaign to trim local government a fighting chance to succeed. If the courts decide that this law is unconstitutional, however, it could have wide-ranging and lasting consequences, and not just for residents of the 17 townships in McHenry County. Residents and taxpayers in the Quad-Cities and throughout the state need this experiment in government reduction to continue. If McHenry County downsizing is successful, it can help lay the groundwork for residents and taxpayers to to begin trimming waste and inefficiency from among more than 7,000 local governments statewide. That includes school districts, townships, road districts, soil conservation districts, mosquito abatement districts, and more.
As this case makes its way through the Illinois court system, we urge judges to do their duty to protect the rights of the people of Illinois, not the politicians elected to serve them.