State Board of Elections asks judge to revise loosened ballot access rules
Michigan ruling sets precedent for stricter rules despite stay-at-home order, state claims
Published by Capitol News Illinois on May 14, 2020
By Rebecca Anzel
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois State Board of Elections has asked a federal judge to reconsider her order loosening requirements for third-party candidates to be included on November ballots this election cycle.
Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District Federal Court, in late April agreed with the state’s Libertarian and Green Parties that Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions made gathering enough petition signatures by June 22 “practically impossible.”
Although both sides agreed “some easing” of those mandates were warranted, the elections board argued in a May 8 court filing that certain provisions of Pallmeyer’s order “will make it extremely difficult to comply with the various deadlines imposed by both state and federal law necessary for the orderly conduct of an election.”
For this cycle only, under the current order, petition signatures may be collected remotely, the judge ordered April 23. The deadline for candidates to submit those signatures to the board of elections was pushed to Aug. 7, more than six weeks after the deadline established by law.
And the number of signatures candidates representing third-parties are required to gather was cut by 90 percent.
The board of elections argued it did not have adequate time to consider the repercussions of the judge’s order during hearings due to their “expeditious nature.” After discussions with the 105 local election authorities, the board is now confident the decreased signature requirement and extended deadline “will severely impact their ability to conduct an accurate and orderly election on November 3, 2020,” according to a court document.
Such a low petition signature threshold “threatens” the election, the board argued in the filing, by “inviting a slew of non-serious candidates who lack the traditional modicum of support necessary to qualify” for the ballot. Officials expect more objections than is typical as well as “an overly cluttered and confusing ballot.”
The 46-day deadline extension also poses issues, the board alleged.
According to the Illinois Election Code, Illinois voters have five business days to object to a candidate’s inclusion on the ballot. Because Pallemeyer extended the filing cut-off date to Aug. 7, that makes the objection deadline Aug. 14. A panel is convened before a hearing can be held to consider those challenges.
The board of elections, according to statute, must finalize the general election ballot and send its contents to local election authorities by Aug. 21. Its attorney argued in a court document that those objection proceedings, which typically start seven days after being registered, cannot begin this year until Aug. 21.
Pallmeyer’s deadline extension therefore “creates a system where electoral boards cannot begin to consider any objections until the same day that the board is supposed to certify the final ballot to local election officials,” the board argued.
The other issue officials raised is meeting the federal deadline to mail overseas military ballots. That date is Sept. 19, according to the filing.
According to the court document, the board is asking Pallmeyer to shift the petition filing deadline to July 6 and require candidates to receive at least 25 percent of the signatures mandated by law.
The board of elections would prefer, though, if the judge allowed officials to “establish appropriate ballot access requirements” themselves, as opposed to enforcing conditions set by the court.
Oliver Hall, the Libertarian and Green Parties’ attorney and founder of the Center for Competitive Democracy, said in an interview, “We don’t think the motion has any merit.”
The board of elections cited a case in Michigan as justification for its request.
Several potential candidates running for state and national offices there argued Michigan’s stay-at-home order prevented them from meeting petition signature requirements by the state’s April 21 deadline.
A federal court originally ruled Michigan’s election authorities’ enforcement of petition conditions was unconstitutional and ordered a less stringent set of qualifications be implemented.
But an appeals court in part disagreed, stating federal courts should be prevented from “usurping a state’s legislative authority by re-writing its statutes.”
“Simply put, federal courts have no authority to dictate to the states precisely how they should conduct their elections,” the court ruled.
If the state of Michigan agreed with the terms ordered by the lower court, it could adopt them for this election cycle, according to the opinion, but a federal court cannot force a state body tasked with carrying out elections to follow different criteria.
The Illinois Board of Elections is asking Pallmeyer to rule the same way. If it is successful, Pallmeyer’s April 23 ruling will be overturned and third party candidates in the state will likely need more signatures by an earlier date.
A hearing on the board’s request is scheduled in Pallmeyer’s court on Friday, May 15.