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Special elections are costly, but another debacle like the one surrounding the appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate can be costly, too -- costly in terms of legal battles, harm to the state's image, ineffective representation and increased distrust in government.

When Barack Obama was elected president, leaving his Senate seat vacant and Illinois represented by only one senator, a special election didn't seem necessary.

Procedures were in place for the governor to appoint a senator who would serve until the next congressional election.

Then the governor -- Rod Blagojevich -- was arrested by federal authorities on charges of political corruption. Among the allegations was a claim that Blagojevich was trying to "sell" the Senate appointment.

Surely no one would even accept an appointment from him under such circumstances. But Burris proved that assumption wrong.

One would hope a similar situation would never occur again. But, considering Illinois' track record with politicians -- especially governors -- accused of political corruption, it's better to be ethically safe than politically sorry.

Even giving Blagojevich's recorded conversations their most favorable spin -- that he was engaging in normal political horse-trading -- the situation was unseemly.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, has renewed efforts to establish procedures for a special election to fill U.S. Senate vacancies.

Under his Senate Bill 1594, the governor would make a temporary appointment of a senator who would serve until a special election. That election would take place within 115 days of the governor officially declaring the seat vacant.

It's a good start.

At the time the Obama vacancy occurred, officials estimated that a special election would cost $25 million to $50 million, with the bulk of that cost borne by local governments.

All sides should work together to find ways to limit the expense of a special election. Among ideas floated by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, are voting by mail and avoiding a primary.

Another alternative that should be considered -- short of a special election -- is requiring Illinois Senate approval of the governor's appointment to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy.

It's been more than two years since this problem became obvious. The sense of urgency may have faded, the problem hasn't. Let's not wait for another scandal before taking action on this issue.

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