Illinois is not foreign to ridiculous election laws. As a matter of fact, they have the second-worst and second-most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation, second to Tennessee. Allow me to elaborate.
Illinois v. Tennessee regarding ballot access laws
In a normal election year, Illinois and Tennessee would require third-party candidates to collect ridiculous amounts of petition signatures to make the general election ballot. In Illinois, there is a 1% requirement based on the overall vote from the largest statewide race. That number has a set minimum of 25,000 signatures for statewide races. Most candidates usually need to collect double that — 50,000 — to make the ballot. There is no clause allowing for independents to collect fewer signatures than third parties. In lesser races, candidates are looking at a minimum threshold of three times that of Democrats and Republicans, all the way to its most extreme in Cook County with a 150x threshold multiplier.
In Tennessee, there is a 2.5% requirement based on the last gubernatorial election. Basing that metric from the 2018 gubernatorial election, Libertarians and other third parties would have to collect just over 55,000 signatures and roughly double that — 110,000 — just to make it on the ballot on their party line. Unfortunately, this makes it more alluring to file as an independent instead, which has a much lower threshold as a result.
2020, COVID-19 and the petitioning relief
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and excessive restrictions set forth by Gov. JB Pritzker, third parties had to file a lawsuit to get the Federal government involved. In Libertarian Party of Illinois v. Pritzker (1:2020cv02112, Ill. N.D.; 20-1961, U.S. Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit), this requirement would receive a 90% threshold reduction with the Libertarian and Green candidate for president, vice president, U.S. Senate and any governmental race where both parties would earn at least 5% of the overall vote. An attempt by the State Board of Elections would be brought forth before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the circuit would affirm the order granted by Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, a Clinton appointee.
In Tennessee, for some races due to the pandemic, the minimum threshold was only 25 signatures for all candidates, regardless of party affiliation. (The process is a bit confusing because Libertarians have to submit far more signatures than this.)
A timeline on previous ballot access reform attempts
There have been attempts to reform the Illinois Election Code for the past seven years. Unfortunately, they all have made little to no traction. That is unfortunate.
In his freshman term, state Sen. Andy Manar would introduce Senate Bill 1624, an attempt to create a level playing field for all candidates. The bill, if passed into law, would permanently reduce the signature requirement for third party candidates and independents to equal that of Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, that bill would die, without as much given a legislative hearing.
However, the movement for ballot access petitioning reform did not end. In 2017, state Sen. Kyle McCarter would introduce Senate Bill 63. A companion bill in the House would be introduced by freshman Republican Rep. Allen Skillicorn in the form of House Bill 762 as a result. Much like Manar’s bill, both bills would face a similar fate.
In the current General Assembly, Manar would give it another try. Senate Bill 141 would receive bipartisan support from Republican Sen. Jason Barickman.
From the March 2019 press release from Manar’s office:
It’s common sense that all candidates and political parties should have to clear the same hurdles to secure a spot on the ballot. I have never thought it was fair that some candidates in Illinois have to collect more signatures than others to run for office.Sen. Andy Manar, Democratic senator from Bunker Hill
Competitive elections make for a stronger democracy, and I think reducing some of the hurdles for candidates to participate is a good step in that direction. I believe this is an idea that should receive bipartisan support and I’m optimistic that we will be able to advance this legislation.Sen. Jason Barickman, Republican senator from Bloomington
Similar legislation in the House would also come forth. Freshman Democratic Rep. Anne Stava-Murray would introduce House Bill 3535, which only has one co-sponsor: fellow Democratic Rep. Carol Ammons.
Skillicorn’s second attempt would be filed a month after the Stava-Murray bill in the form of House Bill 3838. A co-sponsor from Skillicorn’s previous attempt, fellow Republican Rep. David A. Welter is a co-sponsor. Additionally, the bill also has support from Democratic Rep. Jonathan Carroll and freshman Republican Blaine Wilhour.
How can the November 3 election impact needed changes?
Of those candidates who are supporters of these reforms, several are facing challenges in the November 3 general election:
- Skillicorn has Democratic opposition from Suzanne Ness in House District 66.
- Stava-Murray has Republican opposition from Laura Hois in House District 81.
- Wilhour is facing off against Democratic candidate David Seiler in a repeat of 2018. Wilhour would win in 2018 by a 40-point margin.
- Ammons is facing opposition from the Libertarian Party in the form of Brad Bielert in House District 103.
However, Welter and Carroll are among those who are running uncontested in 2020. Regarding Manar and Barickman, their state senate terms aren’t up until 2022.
Also, a one-time ally is no longer in Springfield. McCarter would receive an appointment to become the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in 2019. He has been serving in that capacity since then.
Why the election implications are so important for ballot access reform
While no alternative choices are on the ballot for the Illinois Senate, the election picture is completely different in the House.
Take the above-mentioned Bielert for example. The Champaign-area auto mechanic is running in a head-to-head race against incumbent Ammons in District 103. However, the Urbana Democrat is experiencing her own scandal due to a retail theft incident from a charity store.
If an upset would take place against the heavily-rooted Democrat, Bielert states in his interview with Ballotpedia that he would welcome a leadership role within the newly-formed House Libertarian Caucus.
Eight other Libertarians running for Illinois House
There are eight other Libertarians outside of Bielert running for the House across the Land of Lincoln:
- Joseph Schreiner, a patent agent and translator who was the Libertarian nominee for Secretary of State in 1994. Schreiner is in a three-way race against Democratic incumbent Lindsey LaPointe and Republican Jeff Muehlfelder in District 19. Additionally, Schreiner was a 1996 write-in candidate for Illinois Senate in District 6.
- Glenn Olofson is in a head-to-head race against Democratic incumbent Martin Moylan in District 55. However, Olofson is no stranger to political races. He would receive 824 votes in a 1990 race in District 3. Also, he would run a write-in campaign in District 17 for the 1994 election, receiving two votes.
- Insurance consultant and activist Joshua Flynn is running in House District 78 head-to-head against the incumbent Democrat Camille Lilly. Lilly was responsible for legislation pushing for pumping your own gas to be illegal. However, a public outcry would result in the bill being removed from consideration.
- Clayton Cleveland is running head-to-head against Democratic incumbent Anthony DeLuca in District 80.
- 28-year Army vet and business owner Ken Allison is tied up in a three-way race against Republican incumbent Keith Sommer and Democrat Karla Bailey-Smith in House District 88.
- Businessman Chad Grimm is seeking election in a head-to-head matchup against Democratic incumbent Jehan Gordon-Booth in District 92. Grimm was previously the 2014 Libertarian gubernatorial nominee.
- District 113: Mark Elmore is in a three-way race against Democratic incumbent Jay Hoffman and Constitution Party candidate Ryan Musick.
- District 115: Ian Peak is also in a three-way race for an open seat against Republican Paul Jacobs and Green Party candidate Randall Auxier.
Other candidates on the ballot
There most certainly isn’t a shortage of alternative choices for political office in Illinois for 2020.
Six Green Party candidates – Christopher Kruger, Alia Sarfraz, Anna Schiefelbein, Angel Sides, John Keating, and the above-mentioned Auxier – are making their attempts to run and attempt a tripartisan or quadripartisan legislature.
All candidates are in three-way races, with the exception of Sides. Sides is facing off against Republican incumbent Tim Butler in District 87.
Independents Sean Matlis, Kody Czerwonka and John Cook, Ralph Sides of the Pro-Gun Pro-Life Party, and Musick from the Constitution Party round out the other candidates.
While it’s a great roster of candidates for the general election, can they pull the trigger to take seats in the House? It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the 34 days remaining until election day.
If they do win, then it’s high time to level the playing field for 2022 and beyond.
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, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.