Green Party appeals court win would have meant easier ballot access, but probably not any more wins

By Karen Kidd | Oct 20, 2017

A different decision from a federal appeals court could have made it easier for third party candidates to get on ballots. But they still would face long electoral odds.

CHICAGO — Two Green Party candidates kept off the general election ballot in 2014 now have two losses following a federal appeals court ruling earlier this month. 

But it would have made little difference if they'd won, according to Christopher Z. Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

"If they would have won, it would have meant easier access to the ballot for third party candidates," Mooney told the Cook County Record. "However, that doesn't mean that we would have been overrun by Green Party or Libertarian or other third party candidates."

U.S. politics has two strong parties, with third parties either co-opted or squeezed out, Mooney said. 

"It's not a conspiracy or anything like that," he said. "Two parties just rise up naturally."

In 2014, would-be Illinois Green Party candidates Tabitha Tripp and Gary Shepherd filed suit in federal court after they were disqualified from being on the general election ballot, claiming the state's ballot restrictions violated the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Much of the case centered around the requirement that each signature page of a petition be notarized, with Tripp and Shepherd maintaining that petition circulators should be allowed to submit one notarized verification for all of their petition sheets. On Aug. 17, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois "shunned this proposal" when it granted a motion for summary judgment, according to Circuit Judge Joel Flaum of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, who authored the court's Oct. 6 decision.

The district court ruled that there would be no assurance that sheets lacking individual notarization were not inserted after the fact, the appeals court said in its decision.

"Ultimately, this court need not enter the policy fray," Flaum said in the decision. "Because the notarization requirement does not impose a severe burden, it need not be narrowly tailored."

While getting on the ballot is tough, third party candidates in the U.S. have an even tougher time running against the two established parties, each of which have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, Mooney said. Candidates in both major parties generally know their opponents based on the policy positions of the opposing party, he said.

Facing a third party candidate with a chance of winning would remove that certainty, Mooney said. 

"Throw in a Green or a Libertarian with a shot at a win and it can make things more difficult," he said.

Not that there's any danger of that happening any time soon, especially in states like Illinois where the two-party system is well entrenched, according to Mooney.

A win for the Green Party before the Seventh Circuit would have made it easier for third party candidates to get on the ballot, but it would not have made it easier for them to win elections. 

"We probably would have seen more of them running for office, especially at the local level," Mooney said. "But I don't think it would have made any huge difference in how those elections would turn out."

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Illinois Green Party U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois

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