Illinois Senate: Special Election Likely, Candidates Unclear

07/26/2010 11:57 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Following a court ruling, it appears increasingly likely that Illinois voters will vote twice for U.S. Senator in November.

One vote will be in the general election between Republican Mark Kirk, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones. Another vote will be for a senator to serve the two-month term between November and the January 2011 inauguration.

Who will be on the ballot in that election, and how those candidates will be chosen, is anyone's guess.

The reason for this complicated second election is the appointment of Senator Roland Burris to fill the seat vacated by Barack Obama in 2008. That seat was to be up for re-election in 2010 anyway, so it appeared that Burris would simply serve out the two remaining years on Obama's term, and then be replaced.

But a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals threw a wrench into that plan. The Seventeenth Amendment, which provides for direct election of senators, specifies that in the case of a vacancy, a governor can "make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election."

Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit ruled that this part of the amendment demands that these appointments be truly temporary, and that state legislatures must move to hold elections to replace the temporarily appointed.

Now, the case is back in District Court, where Judge John Grady is working with the state to figure out how to meet its constitutional requirement to hold this election. Mobilizing the resources to open the polls is costly and complicated, and it appears that it won't be able to happen before November 2nd, when voters will already be casting ballots. Hence the two votes for Senator on the same day.

But who will be running for the last two months of Burris's term?

So far, two candidates have announced their intention: Mark Kirk, the Republican nominee for the seat's next six years, and Roland Burris himself, who intends to hang on to his seat for the last precious months. Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate, has been cautious to throw his hat in the ring, telling the Chicago Tribune, "We're going to see how it all plays out. I think it's still premature."

But because the state is unlikely to hold a special primary before the special election, the mechanism for choosing candidates probably isn't as easy as saying, "I'm going to run," as Mr. Burris did last week.

Instead, as Jim Allen of the Chicago Board of Elections wrote to the Capitol Fax blog, established parties (Republican, Democratic and Green) will probably select their candidates on their own, by August 19.

Still, there will have to be some way for independent candidates to be able to get on the ballot, Allen says. The solution to that problem might be placing any independent candidates who qualified for the general election on the special election ballot as well.

In short, depending on the choices of the parties' leaders, the special and general elections may have very similar slates of candidates, or they might be quite different. Either way, with these two votes appearing side-by-side on the Illinois ballot, expect voter confusion this November.

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