COMMENTARY: Elections limited to two-party system is unhealthy

(Element5 Digital/ photo)

Uncontested elections are even worse

Petitioning recently ended for the members of the political duopoly for their upcoming primary election in Illinois taking place on March 17, 2020. Only in two counties was a political party that was neither Democrat nor Republican allowed to slate candidates for their own partisan primary. Libertarians in McLean and Kankakee counties recently filed their petitions for their own party primary.

It’s bad enough when your choices are often limited to Democrat or Republican, but when there’s another option on your ballot because they earned their status as a major party, that is quite a big deal. McLean County earned their status as a result of the 2016 presidential election with just over 6 percent and was able to extend it further through 2022 with an outstanding return for their countywide candidate, Lex Green, who ran for county treasurer in 2018. Kankakee County earned their status as a result of the 2018 statewide election, where former Kankakee resident Mike Leheney secured just over 5 percent in the county.

Meanwhile, in most counties, there is the ongoing plague of uncontested races.

U.S. Senate: U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is not facing a primary challenge in 2020, while the Republicans have a five-way primary with Robert Marshall, Peggy Hubbard, Casey Chlebel, Mark Curran and Tom Tarter in the race. At a bare minimum, the Libertarian Party will slate a candidate despite the high potential of former Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson running as an independent. I really see no attempt taking place from the Green or Constitution parties.

U.S. House: U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis is not facing a primary challenge either, while the Democrats have a two-way primary between 2018 opponent Betsy Dirksen-Londrigan and Stefanie Smith. With Rep. John Shimkus retiring, there is a contested race for the first time in decades with a potential six-way Republican primary and four-way Democratic primary.

Illinois Senate: Neither seat in Senate Districts 48 or 51 are being contested in 2020. The seats are currently held by Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) respectively. 12 of 20 seats up in 2020 are not being contested, according to a report Monday from The Center Square.

Illinois House: Two representatives in the region — Sue Scherer (D-Decatur, HD96) and Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville, HD102) — are running unopposed, while Avery Bourne (R-Raymond, HD95) is not only facing a primary challenge from Lawrence Oliver, but also a general election contention against Democrat Chase Wilhelm. The same report from The Center Square reported that 54 of 118 seats are not being contested in the spring or in November.

Montgomery County: Two of three county officials will not see opposition in March of November, as Republicans will continue to hold the offices of circuit clerk and coroner via Holly Lemons and Randy Leetham. The state’s attorney race is being contested between Democratic incumbent Bryant Hitchings and Republican Andrew Affrunti, a rematch from the 2018 special election to fill the term expiring in December 2020. Most of the county board’s seats are going uncontested, even with primary challenges in Districts 2 and 3. (Editor note: I have planned on running as a Libertarian for one of the seats in District 2.)

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Christian County: Democrats will not see a challenge for any county official positions, including the board of review. The same is true for respective races on the county board involving Republicans.

Shelby County: Unlike the previous two counties, the offices of state’s attorney and coroner will be contested in November. Coroner Brian Green cited he would not seek re-election in 2020. Unless a nomination in vacancy is filed by June, a Democrat will be uncontested for the office of circuit clerk. Uncontested races appear highly likely for county board positions as well.

Macon County: The office of state’s attorney and coroner will be contested in November. However, the offices of county auditor, circuit clerk, and most county board districts will likely go uncontested.

For a nation which has thrived on competitive spirit, there really isn’t much of that to go around in Illinois, where the average rate of contested political races for state and Federal legislative offices linger around 67 percent and lesser races from countywide downward around 80 percent. Let’s not think of the excessively high rate of nonpartisan elected positions that go uncontested each consolidated cycle, with the next one to come in 2021.

You can attribute all of this to election laws that are more than 80 years old, intentionally trying to keep other choices off the ballot. If you’re not a Democrat or Republican — depending on the political race you’re running for — you have to collect a wide and unclear range to reach a specific threshold. You want to run for state legislature? You have to collect 3 to 5 times the amount as both parties and hope you have enough to survive a potential challenge. You want to run for a statewide office? You have to collect a minimum of 5 times the amount as both parties and then some to get on the ballot. You want to run for a countywide office or for county board? Depending on the race, county and voter turnout, you’re collecting between 25 and over 100 times the threshold granted to both parties.

This is blatantly intentional by the Democratic and Republican parties in Illinois and these laws can easily be labeled as one huge thing: unconstitutional censorship.

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Allow me to explain: I’ve petitioned for statewide candidates for the Libertarian Party of Illinois the past few cycles. We have to collect a bare minimum of 25,000 petition signatures — compared to the Democratic and Republican parties’ 5,000 — and much more in the event that we get challenged with the usual tactics of the Illinois Republican Party to censor us off the ballot with every desperate attempt possible. Now how is that not censorship?

In part of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, no law can be made to abridge one’s right to freedom of speech, the right to assemble and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Petitioning to run for political office is in many ways considered exercising freedom of speech. You’re asking registered voters to sign a petition to get on the ballot in the general election.

The duopoly likes to dictate “the right to assemble,” manipulating where one can and cannot petition to get support. In locations where Democrats and Republicans have petitioned for the primary, they try to deter anyone else from petitioning there, often using manipulative tactics to discredit any petition signatures collected in that area.

We exercise our right to petition the government. This is not just limited to grievances, but when you’re fed up with the career politicians in power and those who don’t represent the best interests of the people and decide to run for office.

The duopoly tries hard to keep the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party or anyone else off the ballot because they want the power all to themselves.

I’ve followed some of the legal cases in the past several years where the issue of ballot access, explicitly that of petition signatures and/or filing fees, including that of fellow Libertarian D. Frank Robinson, who has been calling for years to take this issue as far as it will go, but it’s been met with deaf ears before the Libertarian National Committee.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the lobbying process as Political Director of the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPIL) to get proposed legislation heard revising the current Election Code to considerably reduce the number of petition signatures for “new parties” and independents to equal that of the Democratic and Republican parties. There are Libertarians across the country who anticipate that this will work out for LPIL and all other parties in the end.

However, if the legislative process fails, it may come to a lawsuit where I end up working with Frank. But let’s see how this plays out first.

Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network and a contributing writer for My Sports Vote, Ambush Sports and Midwest Sports Network. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dogs Sparky and Buster.

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