Kane County Courthouse

Third-party candidates have scored an easier path to Illinois ballots after a federal appeals panel in Chicago declared unconstitutional an Illinois law requiring political parties to field a full slate of candidates if they wish to seek any office on a ballot.

In an opinion issued Sept. 22, Seventh Circuit Judge Diane S. Sykes, with judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Michael S. Kanne concurring, said the state law violates candidates’ rights, while only increasing voter confusion with overcrowded ballots.

The three-judge panel heard arguments Feb. 24 on the federal case brought by the Libertarian Party of Illinois, which had sued the state over a 2012 election in west suburban Kane County.

At issue was the state’s so-called “full-slate” requirement, which requires political parties that do not have a record of sufficient voter support in past elections, to field candidates for all offices on a ballot in a given government division.

In this case, the Libertarians sought to nominate candidate Julie Fox for Kane County coroner, but were precluded from doing so because the state law also required them to nominate candidates for all county offices, including “circuit clerk, recorder, prosecutor, coroner, board chairman and school superintendent.”

The Libertarian Party argued that requirement violates the rights of political association protected under the U.S. Constitution’s First and 14th amendments. U.S. District Judge Andrea R. Wood agreed and entered a judgment invalidating the requirement.

The state appealed, saying the policy is justified because it promotes political stability, prevents overcrowded ballots and avoids voter confusion.

A party establishes sufficient voter support to be listed on any ballot if its candidate collects more than 5 percent of the vote in the most recent gubernatorial election. Parties also can be established for statewide elections only if another state level candidate garners votes on 5 percent of ballots, the same percentage used to establish parties in congressional and county races. Candidates can run as independents, but their party affiliation is not listed on the ballot.

The state noted the Libertarians also failed to meet petition signature minimums in 2012 in Kane County. The appeals panel, however, said the pressing issue is whether the full-slate requirement, on its face, is an unconstitutional obstacle to ballot access. To that point, Sykes wrote: “The level of scrutiny depends on the regulation at issue: the more severely it burdens constitutional rights, the more rigorous the inquiry into its justifications.”

The judges said the full-slate requirement effectively forces political parties to field candidates for races they do not wish to contend and then to support those candidates, including financially, which in the Kane County example would have increased by a factor of seven the Libertarian Party’s investment.

They also said candidates have a right to be listed on the ballot with their party affiliation, explaining “a party loyal who must run an independent campaign is denied the ability to quickly communicate information about his views and values through association with his party.”

The judges took issue with the state’s choices of legal precedent, saying their cited examples do not apply to this situation. Party designation is a one-way process, they wrote, meaning the Libertarians ought to be entitled to say which candidates are affiliated with its party and are only prevented from applying the designation to candidates whose affiliation with another party is already established.

Illinois’ full-slate requirement is unique among states, Sykes wrote, and is not drawn narrowly enough to only advance Illinois’ stated reasoning — it actually contradicts those goals.

“No one doubts that Illinois’ stated interests are compelling in the abstract, but the full-slate requirement doesn’t advance them,” she wrote. “By creating unwanted candidacies, the requirement increases political instability, ballot overcrowding and voter confusion.”

The Libertarians were represented in the action by attorneys William J. Malan, of Chicago; Gary Sinawski, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and David I. Schoen, of Montgomery, Ala.

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