Block the vote
Third-party candidates say Illinois's ballot-access laws favor the established parties.
There are still five months of pre-vote mudslinging and hot-air blowing before Illinois’s general election. But candidates who aren’t Democratic, Republican or Green (the state’s established parties) are nervously waging their biggest battle: simply getting on the November ballot.
Third-party and independent candidates (the reanimated Scott Lee Cohen included) were given 90 days to gather signatures from registered voters (petition signatures) in order to have their names printed on the ballot. June 21 was the deadline; Wednesday 30 is the cutoff for petition challenges, which come from other candidates or parties seeking to knock out opponents.
While established-party candidates need only 5,000 signatures before the primary, less-established camps that don’t have access to the primary each must receive 25,000 signatures for statewide office. And outside parties aren’t allowed to participate in the primary until they receive more than five percent of the vote in a statewide election.
This lopsided system has third-party hopefuls crying foul. “The established parties have gotten control of the government and the whole electoral process,” says Lex Green, Libertarian candidate for governor. “They’re controlling the choices you have. And I hardly see that as fair, both for the candidates and the voters.”
Randy Stufflebeam, Constitution Party candidate for U.S. Senate, agrees: “[The unequal signature requirement] marginalizes third parties,” he says. In 2006, Stufflebeam ran for governor but drummed up only 4,000 signatures. As a write-in candidate, however, he managed to get more than 19,000 votes—the most any write-in has received in Illinois history. “If there’s a high signature requirement,” he says, “it should be high for everyone”
Slanted or not, Ken Menzel, legal counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, defends the system. “Signature requirements are a method of avoiding too many people on the ballot. I mean, the piece of paper is only so big,” he says. Menzel says it’s fair that established parties need just one fifth of the signatures required by third parties because the Democrats, Republicans and Greens are “forced to fight this gladiator contest in February before they have the opportunity to wear the party’s mantle in November.”
At press time, Green and Stufflebeam estimated they were ready to submit 40,000 and 30,000 signatures, respectively. They’ve learned from Libertarian Jim Tobin’s 1998 bid for governor that those numbers still might not be sufficient to withstand a challenge. Tobin handed in more than 60,000 signatures before a petition challenge led to enough of his signatures being ruled invalid that he never made the ballot. He took the case to the Illinois Supreme Court but lost.
Tobin’s daughter, Christina, is now a ballot-access advocate as president and CEO of Chicago-based Free & Equal. She says the only requirement should be a filing fee (usually a few hundred dollars), as it is in 30 states. “Instead of costing taxpayers money for petition challenges and legal fees,” she says, “candidates would be putting money into the system—which we all know could use it.”