The United States takes pride in calling itself a “democratic” republic, with “free and fair elections.” Yet Illinois election laws are fixed to give a huge advantage to the candidates of just two political parties, stifling all other competition. Such a system cannot justly be described as “democratic” or “free and fair.” That is why the Illinois Green Party urges Illinoisans to speak up and take a strong stand in support of Senate Bill 141.
Illinois has one of the most repressive, restrictive and grossly unfair ballot access laws in the United States. For example:
- When a Democratic or Republican (established party) candidate wants to get on the ballot for statewide office (president, governor, senator, etc.), that candidate must gather 5,000 petition signatures from registered voters. A Green, Libertarian, or other minority party candidate must gather five times as many – 25,000 signatures.
- Similarly, when an established party candidate wants to get on the ballot for State Senate, they are required to gather 1,000 petition signatures from voters in their district. For State Representative, the number is just 500 signatures. A candidate of any other political party must gather a number equal to at least 5% of the total number of persons who voted in the district in the last election. In 2018, depending on the district, that number was between 1,711 and 5,756 signatures for State Senate, and between 1,330 and 3,103 signatures for State Rep.
- The law is more complex for congressional candidates but the disparity between established party and other candidates is even more extreme. Taking the First Congressional District as a typical example: A Democrat running for Congress in 2018 had to collect 1,230 signatures, a Republican had to collect 408 signatures – but a candidate of any other party had to collect at least 16,640 signatures.
- Established party candidates gather their petition signatures in the Fall preceding the March Primary election. Other candidates cannot even begin gathering the required signatures until late March – after the Primary. In both cases, the candidate has just 90 days to gather signatures. That restriction is ridiculous in both instances, but it accentuates the advantage of the established party candidates, who already enjoy the advantage of greater institutional and monetary support. For other candidates, the barrier is near-impossible, requiring a huge commitment of volunteer time and/or money – just to get on the ballot.
- After filing their signatures, minority party candidates frequently must defend their petitions against legal challenges filed by an objector from one of the established parties. This again consumes time, money and many volunteer hours. Typically, the candidates won’t even know whether their name will appear on the ballot until late Summer. Meanwhile, established party candidates can devote their time, money and volunteer support to actual campaigning, with a head start of several months.
During the objection process, election authorities frequently discount large numbers of petition signatures gathered by minority party candidates on dubious or highly technical grounds. As a result, minority party candidates must plan on gathering about 50 percent more signatures than the minimum required in order to ensure that they survive the challenge.
Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans support having third (or fourth) party choices on the ballot. Yet their desires are frustrated by unfair ballot access laws like those in Illinois.
The excuse given by the established parties to justify these laws is that they are needed to avoid having “too many” parties or candidates on the ballot. In court, they have defended these laws as necessary to avoid “ballot clutter” and “voter confusion” (yes, they have actually used those terms!) – as if voters would get hopelessly “confused” having to choose between more than two options. This argument is not only contrary to the public interest, it is an insult to Illinois voters.
Far from avoiding “ballot clutter,” the actual result of these laws is to have extremely uncompetitive elections, with many incumbents not even having to face any challenge at all. For example, out of Illinois’ 118 State Representative races in 2018:
- There were 53 districts in which only one party had a candidate in the Primary Election. As a result, in the November General Election, there was only one candidate on the ballot in those 53 districts – 45 percent of the total!
- In 87 State Rep districts, the Democratic candidate in the Primary ran unopposed. In 57 districts, the Republican Primary candidate ran unopposed.
- There was not a single third-party or independent candidate on the ballot in any State Representative District. This was not for lack of trying. There was only one third-party candidate for State Senate. Only three independent candidates and one Green Party candidate (who had major-party status from prior elections) were on the ballot for Congress.
Senate Bill 141 will take a giant step toward solving this problem and making Illinois’ ballot laws fairer — simply by making the petition signature requirements equal for all political parties. This is not a complete solution. Democratic and Republican candidates will still have the advantage of being able to petition sooner and securing their ballot position sooner. However, making the petition signature requirement equal is the single most important step that could be taken to create a more equitable and democratic system in Illinois.
Here’s what you can do to help get SB 141 passed:
- Contact the offices of the co-sponsors – Sen. Andy Manar and Sen. Jason A. Barickman – and thank them for sponsoring the bill and let them know you want to see it passed.
- Contact the members of the Senate Executive Committee, and especially the sub-committee on election law – and let them know of your support and that you would appreciate their “yes” vote on SB 141 to get it on the Senate floor. You can use the points made here as talking points.
- Contact your own State Senator and ask him/her to support SB 141 and consider joining on as co-sponsors. (If you are not sure who your current Senator is, you can check your voter registration card for the district number, or look it up by checking your registration status here.)
Please take a stand today and do what you can to help get this important pro-democracy bill passed!
Other Illinois Green Party News
We are also asking for your support on a number of anti-fracking bills this legislative session. We will follow up with more information soon, but meanwhile, you can view this summary at the website of the Illinois Coalition Against Fracking, a coalition supported by the Illinois Green Party.
Save the date! Our Spring Conference will be held on Saturday, April 13th, at Citlalin Gallery, 2005 S. Blue Island, Chicago. This will be a one-day conference with an emphasis on discussing strategy for 2020; it will also include election of officers for the next year and other important party business. There will also be a fundraising dinner. Details to be announced.
Reminder: If you have not already done so, please become a dues paying member of the Illinois Green Party. Becoming a duespaying member is a requirement for participating in our decision-making. We are a grass-roots party and we rely on member contributions – no corporate funding allowed – to finance our activities. This is the party that fights for you, but we ask you to support it. A political party is only as strong as its members make it, by what they do or fail to do. For “us” to succeed, you need to be an active part of “us.” We are not asking a lot – standard dues are just $60 a year, and only $12 a year for persons of low-income – but we do ask you to make this modest contribution to help our efforts to build a better future for all Illinoisans.
Illinois Green Party Outreach