Illinois’ Horrible Ballot Access Laws

Illinois’ Horrible Ballot Access Laws:  1,000,000+ signatures to get a full slate of statewide, US House, Illinois House & Illinois Senate candidates on the ballot.  The General Assembly achieves voter suppression through candidate suppression.

The State of Illinois currently recognizes only two political parties on a statewide basis.  I bet you can name them.  That’s because they received at least 5% of the vote for Governor in the last gubernatorial election.

For a political party not currently recognized by the State of Illinois to be able to place candidates on a general election ballot, the statewide candidates must gather 25,000 signatures of registered voters on a petition (all statewide candidates can be placed on the same petition). 

However, that petition covers only candidates for statewide offices (including President/Vice President and US Senate).  All candidates for lower offices must use a petition that’s good for only themselves.

In election years that end with a 4, 6, 8 or 0, the number of signatures Third Party or Independent candidates for US House, Illinois House and Illinois Senate must gather is 5% of the total vote for that office in the last general election.

With that law, based on 2020 general election results, if a Third Party wanted to run a candidate for every US House, Illinois House and Illinois Senate election (and assuming that there were the minimum number of Illinois Senate elections (19 out of 59 seats), about 650,000 signatures of registered voters would have to be gathered within a three month period.

But, that’s valid signatures of registered voters—and in the correct district for all non-statewide candidates.  That means that at least 50% more signatures need to be gathered, which would drive the total number of signatures to near (and probably over) 1,000,000.

In years that end with the number 2, due to the census and redistricting, the number of valid signatures of registered voters is reduced to 5,000 for US House, 3,000 for Illinois Senate (all 59 districts have elections in such years), and 1,500 for Illinois House.  Including the statewide candidates’ petition, that means that 464,000 valid signatures and 700,000+ total signatures would have to be gathered for a full statewide slate.

These are ridiculous and reprehensible signature requirements in a nation that holds itself out to the world as a beacon of democracy.

In a January 19, 2022 speech on the floor of the US Senate in support of federal legislation on behalf of voters rights, Sen. Tammy Duckworth stated, “And my buddies and I and Senator Cotton didn’t sign up to defend our democracy in war zones thousands of miles away only to watch it crumble at the hands of powerful people more focused on their own self-interests than in the foundational component of this extraordinary experiment that we call America.”

OK.  But, did you and Sen. Cotton sign up to defend ballot access laws like those just described?

I think Illinois should adopt the Model Ballot Access Legislation proposed in the Harvard Journal on Legislation in 1999 that would allow a new political party to gain ballot access in a state for all its candidates by gathering the signatures of 0.1% of the registered voters in that state.  Illinois has about 9,000,000 eligible voters, so that would mean a petition requiring no more than 9,000 signatures of registered voters would allow full representation for a new political party.

The following is from Ballot Access News, November 2021 edition, written and published by ballot access expert Richard Winger:

The Fordham Law Review, November 2021 issue, has my article, “How States can Avoid Overcrowded Ballots but Still Protect Voter Choice.” It shows that, in all history, if a state required more than 5,000 signatures for all methods to put a minor party or an independent candidate on the ballot, it never had a crowded ballot.

“Crowded ballot” is defined as a ballot with more than eight candidates for a single-winner office. The author of this observation was U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Harlan, who said in his concurrence in Williams v Rhodes (1968) that a ballot listing eight candidates for a single office “cannot be said, in light of experience, to carry a significant danger of voter confusion.”

The Fordham article contains data on every presidential election in each state from the beginning of government-printed ballots (in 1892) to the present day. It records every instance when a state required more than 5,000 signatures for all routes to the general election ballot, and compares each instance with the number of presidential candidates on the ballot that year.

There are no instances when a state that required more than 5,000 signatures for all methods to get on the ballot ever had more than eight candidates for president on the ballot, except that in 1980 and 1996, New York had nine.

The article also shows that the general observation applies not only to presidential elections, but to elections for all partisan office. Presidential ballots are easily the most crowded ballots; the next most crowded ballots are for Governor and U.S. Senator.

Ballots for U.S. House and state legislature invariably have far fewer candidates. So if it’s true for president, it is true in general.

Clearly, a 0.1% of registered voters petition requirement in Illinois would not lead to a crowded ballot.

Illinois ballot access law is strictly punitive in nature and is clearly designed to suppress political competition and voter choice.  If you think the ballot access laws of Illinois are an outrage, please let your Illinois State Representative and Illinois State Senator know.  This link: https://www.ilga.gov/ takes you to the General Assembly’s website.  This link:  https://elections.il.gov/ElectionOperations/DistrictLocator/DistrictOfficialSearchByAddress.aspx will help you identify your State Representative and State Senator.