CHICAGO — Upcoming Illinois elections could see more third-party candidates than in past rounds of balloting after Illinois' full slate ballot requirement law, which placed additional burdens on third party candidates seeking to run for office, was struck down by a federal appeals court.

The Libertarian Party of Illinois filed suit in 2012 after election authorities denied independent candidate Julie Fox the chance to run for coroner in suburban Kane County. Fox was denied under a state rule requiring an independent or third-party candidate for one countywide office to be accompanied on the ballot by similar third-party candidates for all of the other county officers, including circuit clerk, recorder, prosecutor, county board chairman and school superintendent, to get her name on the ballot. The Libertarians argued that the full-slate requirement was a violation of Fox's rights to political association under the U.S. Constitution's First and 14th Amendments.

Kent Redfield
Kent Redfield | http://www.uis.edu/illaps/about/facultyandstaff/kentredfield/

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, told the Cook County Record that the state law attempted to prevent ballot confusion, but may have crossed the line in making it too difficult for third-party or independent candidates to jump in the ring.

“In general, the law is intended to try and ensure people on the ballot are serious candidates," Redfield said. "And if you set that bar too low, you go to vote for, say, governor, and there are 25 candidates, that can make it difficult and confusing for voters. If you end up with 25 independents and one Democrat and one Republican in an election, the disparity could be too great. But you don’t want to make the law so difficult that it’s hard to get on the ballot if you don’t have a huge organization with money. And that’s the issue. Are the requirements unreasonably high so we’re making it impossible for a third party to get on a ballot to become an official party?”

A federal district judge agreed with the Libertarians. And after the state appealed, a three-judge panel at the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes said the full-slate requirement did nothing to advance Illinois’ interests because, by forcing individuals to create unwanted candidates to simply fill a slot, “the requirement increases political instability, creating ballot overcrowding and voter confusion.”

“The court said we are not just going to give [the] legislature the benefit of the doubt," Redfield said. "... Federal courts, in general, have been really narrowing the ability of legislators to regulate money and set policy in campaign finance areas as well, coming down on the side of the rights of individuals. This certainly fits the trend towards favoring individual rights and applying strict scrutiny to legislators making a case that there’s a state interest in limiting participation.”

Illinois’ full-slate requirement was unique among states, and the possibility that the different party requirements are unconstitutional has become a legitimate concern. 

“The argument was whether we’re being discriminatory against third parties by having them jump through more hoops [to run for office]," Redfield said. "There is a state interest in preserving the integrity of the election process, but there should also be a right to participate.”

Redfield said the issue was created due to the fact that the established parties also were interpreting and applying the electoral code. 

"There is a point of tension because the people writing the rules are the established political parties," he said. "So does the system favor established political parties, and are we allowing that? There needs to be a balance where you don’t have a mess at the polls, but also so it is not possible for established political parties to rig the game, so to speak, in their favor."

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