Jonathan Bilyk Sep. 9, 2014, 10:27am

Voters will not see candidates from one of the state’s most prominent alternative political parties on the November ballot.

A federal judge last month tossed the Green Party’s request to force state election officials to include their candidates’ names on ballots this fall, about eight years after its gubernatorial candidate received 10 percent of the vote, a figure that qualified the party to run in 2010 without having to meet the signature requirement for third parties.

On Aug. 21, U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp denied a request from representatives of the Illinois Green Party and the party’s candidates for seven statewide offices for a preliminary injunction, seeking to compel the Illinois State Board of Elections to place the party's statewide slate on the ballot despite their failure to obtain the required number of signatures on their candidates’ nominating petitions.

While handing a victory to the Board of Elections and a member of the Democratic Party who objected to the Green Party’s petitions, Tharp noted he shared many of the party's  concerns related to election laws governing who can get their names placed on the ballot.

However, he said the Green Party and its candidates simply brought their lawsuit too close to the late August deadlines to finalize the statewide ballot, leaving him to choose between either allowing the Green Party candidates to be potentially harmed, or to upend state law governing candidates nominations – law that has already been declared constitutional in precedent – harming in the process a host of “innocents,” including voters.

“The solution is plainly inequitable,” Tharp wrote in his opinion last month. “Sufficiently so that the court concludes that the balance of harms weighs decisively in favor of the state’s more compelling interest in enforcing its valid laws and administering an orderly election, despite the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on at least some of their claims.”

The suit was filed in July, after state election officials upheld challenges to about 7,000 signatures on nominating petitions submitted by the Green Party for its slate of seven candidates for the offices of Illinois governor, U.S. senator, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer.

The Green Party had submitted 30,000 signatures on petitions to support the nomination of its candidates for those offices, as part of an Illinois election law requirement that “new parties” – meaning, in this case, parties whose candidates did not garner enough votes in the 2010 election to be considered “established parties” in the state – field a slate of candidates for all statewide offices to be allowed to run candidates for any of the offices.

However, a member of the Democratic Party had challenged 12,000 of those signatures. After an administrative review by election officials upheld 7,000 of those challenges, the Green Party’s petitions no longer had the 25,000 valid signatures required to place their candidates on the ballot.

While Illinois law gives such parties three days to respond to the signature rejections, the Green Party opted not to do so, instead filing suit to challenge much of Illinois’ law governing candidate nominations, including the statewide complete-slate requirement; the signature review procedures; and the 25,000-signature requirement, and to ask the court to enjoin the state from enforcing those requirements on its candidates.

Tharp noted his concerns with many of those challenged election law requirements, including the statewide complete-slate requirement, over which he said he, “like others, has substantial concerns about the First Amendment implications” of the rule.

The judge also noted his concern with the state’s arguments in support of this rule, saying the state still needs to present some “logical justification” for the rule “beyond reference to hypothetical alternatives.”

He also chided the state for its petition notarization requirements, saying its argument that the system requiring each petition sheet of 10 nominating signatures to be notarized somehow “prevents fraud on the petition lacks evidence and, more importantly, logic.”

While sympathetic to the Green Party’s contentions on the constitutionality of these aspects of Illinois election law, Tharp took the party to task for its delay in filing the suit until the only remedy at hand would have been to waive the 25,000-signature requirement – the only one of the challenged nominating rules Tharp said had already been explicitly declared constitutional in previous cases.

“The Green Party failed to challenge the complete-slate, notarization, and binder-check provisions in time for the current election cycle,” Tharp wrote. “Instead, the plaintiffs ask this court to short-circuit the state’s election laws and regulations and simply order candidates onto the ballot in a manner that will, in effect, waive the constitutionally valid signature requirement, rather than address the allegedly unconstitutional provisions of law that the plaintiffs filed suit to overturn.”


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