A Chicago federal judge has sided with a suit brought by the Illinois Libertarian Party against the Illinois State Board of Elections, ruling state election law offends the U.S. Constitution by requiring a new party to list a full slate of candidates on nominating petitions in order to get on the ballot the first time.
Judge Andrea R. Wood issued the opinion and order Feb. 24 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Julia A. Fox submitted a nominating petition in 2012 to run as a Libertarian candidate for Kane County auditor in the November 2012 general election. However, the Kane County Officers Electoral Board rejected her petition, because it fell short of the required number of signatures and did not include a list of Libertarian candidates running for the six other county offices up for election that year. Both requirements are mandated by state election code, but only the full slate is required of “new” political parties.
Illinois Election Code defines an established party as one that polled more than 5 percent of the vote in the last election in a district, county or any other political subdivision. In the Kane County election previous to 2012, the Libertarian Party did not meet this requirement. As a result, it was not considered an established party in the county and must list a full slate of candidates on petitions, if even one candidate is to be on the ballot.
The Libertarian Party and Fox went to federal court in April 2012 against the Illinois State Board of Elections and Kane County Clerk John Cunningham. The Libertarians contended the insistence on a full slate "unconstitutionally burdened" the exercise of their constitutional right to free speech under the First Amendment and their right to equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The elections board was later dropped from the lawsuit, but the board’s individual members remained as defendants.
Both sides eventually filed motions for summary judgment, with Judge Wood deciding in favor of the Libertarians.
Defendants tried to nip the Libertarian motion at the start, contending Wood should use "judicial restraint" and refrain from addressing the constitutionality of the full slate requirement, because apart from that issue, Fox was still barred from the ballot on the grounds she did not have enough petition signatures.
Wood brushed aside this argument by saying defendants' theory would create a situation in which anyone excluded from a ballot for one reason, would be unable to challenge that reason without first showing they otherwise met every other requirement – an untenable position, in Wood’s view.
Having dispensed with the defendants' preemptive strike, Wood went on to consider the merits of the Libertarian case.
Wood noted all candidates in Illinois have to obtain petition signatures and must file those petitions by certain deadlines, but candidates from budding parties have to go the extra step and field candidates for all open local offices – a "severe" hindrance that Wood found difficult to support constitutionally.
"Illinois is the only state with a full slate requirement. The Court finds it meaningful that out of 49 other states and the District of Columbia . . . none have seen fit to impose a comparable requirement," Wood observed.
Defendants maintained the purpose of insisting on a full roster is to demonstrate a fledgling party can muster noteworthy electoral support, so as to prevent factionalism and party-splintering and permit party identification.
However, Wood said this goal can be just as well satisfied, if not better, by the petition signature requirement. Further, she noted that even established parties often fail to present candidates for every open slot on the ballot. In addition, Wood said the inability of a novice party to put forward a candidate for a post such as coroner would render no comment on the party’s overall backing among voters.
Wood bolstered her reasoning by pointing to possible unintended consequences of demanding a full slate – an untested party would be encouraged to enlist “strawmen” candidates to fill out slates and in some cases, could be forced to run a candidate for a post to which the party is ideologically opposed. As an example on the state level, Wood pointed to the office of lieutenant governor.
In the end, Wood wiped clean the full slate requirement, saying it “does not advance a compelling state interest.”
The Libertarian Party of Illinois and Fox were represented by attorneys David I. Schoen, of Montgomery, Ala.; Gary Sinawski, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and William J. Malan, of Chicago.
The State Board of Elections' members were each represented by the Illinois Attorney General's Office. The Kane County clerk was represented by the Kane County State's Attorney's Office.