New parties sue over Illinois election rules

Illinois election rules petitioning "practically impossible" now

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders, instituted to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, are in direct conflict with Illinois' ballot eligibility requirements, the Libertarian and Green parties of Illinois allege in a lawsuit filed April 3.

Both are considered "new" parties under state election rules, meaning a candidate running for office under those banners must receive a greater number of in-person petition signatures than those with "established" parties – typically, the Democrats and Republicans.

Libertarians and Greens have from March 24 until June 22 to gather enough signatures – in person with a canvasser watching – to qualify for inclusion on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

But party officials allege meeting that threshold will be "practically impossible" given Gov. JB Pritzker's social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

"Even assuming that the governor's emergency orders were lifted on May 1, 2020, (the Libertarian and Green parties) and their candidates will have lost over five weeks of petitioning time, or more than one-third of the time allotted to them to collect signatures in person by Illinois law," according to the lawsuit.

The parties are asking that Illinois' signature collection mandates be waived or suspended this general election cycle so their candidates may be on the ballot, and also that the state reimburse their attorneys' fees.

Pritzker's office did not respond to separate letters sent from the two parties in mid-March, nor did a spokesperson return a request for comment from Capitol News Illinois.

The Illinois State Board of Elections, in a letter, said it is unable to assist.

"We appreciate the unique dilemma you present in your letter and understand that you are tasked with the difficult and unprecedented duty of balancing obligations under the Elections Code with safety concerns for candidates, circulators and petition signers alike," the elections board said in court documents. "However, the State Board of Elections does not have the authority to grant you the relief you request."

It would take a court order or the General Assembly amending current law to address this concern, an elections board spokesperson said.

Rich Whitney and Bennett Morris, chairs of the Green and Libertarian parties, respectively, each said this lawsuit is a matter of upholding democracy.

Candidates running as Democrats or Republicans already have a guaranteed spot on the general election ballot. Under statute, the parties were allowed to petition in autumn and candidates were chosen in the March primary election. Those running under the banner of a "new" party or independent must collect petition signatures in the spring.

"It's normal for us to be on the ballot – we're good at it despite the obstacles that are put in place," Morris said. "I think if there aren't Libertarians, Greens or any independents allowed on the ballot in November, we do not have a democratic process and we do not have a legitimate election."

An "established" party candidate for president, for example, needs at least 3,000 signatures, or more if someone challenges their validity. That same person would need 5,000 signatures to run for U.S. Senate.

Independents or those in a "new" party, including Libertarians and Greens, need at least 25,000 signatures for both positions. Whitney said candidates in his party often collect at least 40,000 signatures.

He added it is "ridiculous" that in both cases, candidates have 90 days to gather the required number.

"What this means is that the minority parties – the new parties trying to break through and become established – are unfairly burdened and their campaigns are unfairly burdened. They have fewer resources because of all the time spent petitioning," Whitney said.

Illinois' signature requirements were established in 1891 and were not, according to the lawsuit, "substantially updated or improved ... despite the availability of less burdensome alternatives enabled by modern technology."

The Libertarian and Green parties point to action taken by other states as examples of what Illinois' government should consider. Voters in Arizona and New Jersey can sign candidates' petitions electronically and those in Denver, Colorado and the District of Columbia can use an application called E-Sign, which validates signatures against voter rolls.

Those initiatives would be in line with executive orders issued by Pritzker, allowing public notaries to work through a two-way video, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Kwame Raoul did not return a request for comment. His office would represent Pritzker and members of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Contact Rebecca Anzel ranzel@capitolnewsillinois.com.

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