CHICAGO – What makes a true political-party member? A lawsuit alleges that it depends on what ballot a voter chooses to use – and if that voter later runs for a party office.

According to, the Chicago and Cook County Republican Party chapters filed a federal suit June 23 in Chicago federal court, claiming Democrats have violated a party election bylaw to sabotage Republican ballot spots in November’s general election.

What started it all is a dispute over who should be the GOP congressional candidate from the 7th District. Frances Sapone, who won the primary to be GOP commissioner of the 29th Ward, said she and Sammy Tenuta, commissioner primary winner of the 39th Ward, were not notified of the nomination of Jeffery Leef to be the district’s GOP candidate for Congress.  

The GOP responded by claiming Sapone and Tenuta each voted in another party’s primary within the past eight years, which disqualified them from running for or holding a public office, according to a party bylaw amended last year.

The lawsuit claims that Sapone “is working against the party” by trying to remove Leef as the GOP’s candidate and that upholding her objection would infringe on the party’s rights to protect its selection procedures.

Democrat Danny K. Davis has held the district’s congressional seat since 1997, according to

When asked if the eight-years requirement of the bylaw was excessive, Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said history has to be considered.

“If you didn’t have a history of Democrats screwing around with Republican elections and vice-versa, then you wouldn’t get that kind of a rule,” he said, chuckling. “So whether they went overboard or not, it’s clearly a reflection that the parties have not respected the integrity of the other party’s right to kind of run their own organization.”

Voters in Illinois don’t have to register as a party member, Redfield said. When a voter goes to the precinct, he or she can ask for a particular party’s ballot or a nonpartisan-question ballot.

Illinois election code allows a party to nominate someone to run in the general election, provided the prospective candidate gets enough signatures on a petition and completes the necessary paperwork, Redfield said. However, because the party is acting to fill a vacant ballot spot, the person basically has to “have the blessing of the party,” he added.

That is at the core of the dispute in the 7th District.

“So what you’ve got here is the party officials who ought to, you would assume, be looking for a candidate to run against Davis. They’re in fact objecting to a Republican running. They said, ‘You didn’t ask us to nominate you and, therefore, we’re objecting to your petition,’” Redfield said.

Redfield said that a political party, as a private group, can set its own qualifications for running for a party office. And the Chicago GOP used the bylaw in question earlier this year to eliminate what it believed to be more internal Democratic influence, as the party terminated more than a dozen city GOP committeemen because they had recently voted in Democratic primaries.

“The issue here is, on what basis are they saying these people aren’t Republicans?” Redfield said.

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