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Illinoisans seek judicial declaration on validity of Workers Rights Amendment

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(The Center Square) – The validity of the 2022 General Election ballot is being questioned by seven Illinoisans who say the so-called Workers Rights Amendment question did not appear correctly.

Amendment 1, known as the Illinois Workers’ Rights Amendment, adds language to the state constitution affirming that “employees shall have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours, and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.”

George Weckbacher and others say the state failed to follow provisions in the Illinois Constitution that lay out the criteria to amend the constitution. Instead of taking the original lawsuit through the appellate courts, Weckbacher and others are seeking a judicial declaration.

“A judicial declaration is basically a contest between two people and the judge will decide which way it should go. We are looking for a judicial declaration that says, ‘this ballot was illegal,’” said Weckbacher.

The crux of the original lawsuit argued the Illinois State Board of Elections shouldn’t have certified the ratification of Amendment 1 because the actual words of the proposal were not on the ballot. In July 2023, the court dismissed the original lawsuit stating only the results of the election, not the validity of the election, can be challenged under the statute that deals with the ballot appearance of constitutional amendments.

“Rather than taking this and fighting in the appellate court and then the Supreme Court, we decided to step back and do a judicial declaration,” Weckbacher said.

In December 2023, the plaintiffs filed their complaint in McLean County Circuit Court. The Illinois Attorney General then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The next hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Weckbacher and others argue not only did the amendment itself not appear on the ballot, but the Illinois Constitution says proposed revisions or amendments should be on a separate ballot. The 2022 ballot included the Amendment 1 question with other races.

“The general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections said that they must prepare what the legislators’ proposed in their resolution. The problem is that’s not true and what’s true is that they have to follow the law. The law has requirements surrounding legislative amendments and it’s laid out in the Constitution Amendment Act,” said Weckbacher. “It’s required that the board have both the text of the amendment and the explanation on the ballot.”

Weckbacher and others filed their complaint with the state Board of Elections on Nov. 19, 2022.

“The Illinois State Board of Elections is authorized by our constitution to supervise and administer the election laws,” said Weckbacher. “If anyone should know the election laws, they should.”

On Dec. 5, 2022, the board certified the results after plaintiffs officially argued the ballots were not proper. Documents from the board show the reason they certified was because there’s a statute that says they must certify the amendment as written by the General Assembly to county clerks.

Plaintiffs seeking the judicial declaration are facing pushback from the state. The state’s motion to dismiss is based on two things. One is that the plaintiffs don’t have the jurisdiction to file for a judicial declaration in circuit court and the second is that it’s not a judicial declaration but rather a constitutional challenge, which means that it should be heard in Sangamon or Cook counties because of a recent law enacted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker limiting such challenges to just those two counites.

“We’re looking at strictly a judicial declaration,” said Weckbacher. “This is not a constitutional question so the new state law [that limits venues] does not pertain to this case.”

The law limiting where the venue constitutional challenges can be brought also faces legal challenges.