For presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, Feb. 1 was a good day. Not only did the Republican from Texas top presumed front-runner Donald Trump to win the influential Republican primary in Iowa that day, but Cruz also won a favorable ruling in Illinois saying he’s eligible to run for president.
The ruling comes from the Illinois State Board of Elections, in response to objections claiming he and another candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, aren’t “natural born citizens.” The board overruled the challenge to Rubio the same day and decided that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will remain on Illinois’ primary ballot.
Cruz and Rubio faced objections in Illinois similar to the challenges that plagued President Barack Obama during his two presidential campaigns. At the root of these challenges is the idea that there is a difference between someone born in the U.S. to citizen parents and someone born to citizen parents outside the U.S. or someone born in the U.S. to noncitizen parents.
Cruz was born in Canada to a U.S. citizen mother, while Rubio was born in Florida to parents who were legal residents at the time but became citizens after his birth.
Read the objections and candidates’ replies here.
Such challenges have failed in courts and state election boards, but those who file the cases do so because they feel they are defending the U.S. Constitution.
William Graham of Glen Ellyn, a Chicago suburb, filed objections to the candidacies of Cruz and Rubio in early January, claiming they are not natural born citizens and therefore don’t meet that eligibility requirement under the U.S. Constitution. Lawrence Joyce of Poplar Grove in northern Illinois filed a separate objection on the same basis against Cruz. Both Graham and Joyce describe themselves as conservative and say their objections aren't about political ideology; they're about the U.S. Constitution.
The State Officers Electoral Board, which is the decision-making arm of the Illinois State Board of Elections, met Feb. 1 to consider each objection, ultimately deciding in favor of Cruz and Rubio. The board voted to throw out Graham’s objections on the grounds that he failed to state his interest in filing his objections and failed to state the relief being sought. The board also voted to dismiss Joyce’s objection, on the grounds that Cruz truly is a natural born citizen.
The board bases such decisions on the recommendation of a hearing officer. In the Cruz and Rubio cases, that officer was Jim Tenuto, who also serves as assistant executive director for the state election board.
“Ted Cruz became a natural born citizen at the moment of his birth because it was not necessary to become a citizen through the naturalization process at some point after birth,” Tenuto wrote in his recommendation regarding Joyce’s objection to Cruz. “Further discussion on this issue is unnecessary.”
Graham says he wasn’t surprised by the board’s decision, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.
“I personally don’t think they had any evidence or documents to do that,” he said.
Graham says the issue comes down to the intent of the nation’s founding fathers. The founders, Graham says, wanted to protect national security by ensuring no president would have divided allegiances to the U.S. and another country.
“You don’t want to have a Cuban or a Canadian in charge of all the guns,” he said.
Joyce said he believes the board ruled as it did because they feared a "monster lawsuit" by Cruz. He likens Cruz to an artificial flower.
“You can treat it like a flower, but it’s not a flower,” he said.
Graham and Joyce have until Feb. 8 to file for judicial review, which would send the cases to the court system. Joyce says he isn’t planning to appeal the decision because doesn’t have the expertise to continue fighting, while Graham says he’s considering hiring an attorney.
“Clearly, I did this imperfectly and gave the board the cover they needed to do what they wanted,” Graham said.
In a separate case, the board ruled that Democratic candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton filed enough valid petition signatures to remain on the ballot. Clinton’s petitions were challenged by Brant Davis of Chicago.
Contact Patrick Yeagle at firstname.lastname@example.org.