Judge blocks law that would have banned newly slated candidates from ballot

Judge blocks law that would have banned newly slated candidates from ballot

By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
hmeisel@capitolnewsillinois.com

A Sangamon County judge on Wednesday blocked the Illinois State Board of Elections from enforcing a new law that would have prevented certain General Assembly candidates who didn’t run in the March primary from getting on the November ballot.

The move doesn’t void the bill in its entirety, but rather blocks it only for this year’s general election for the 14 named plaintiffs in the case. 

Democrats who control the legislature quickly moved the measure from introduction to Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk last month, claiming banning the practice of post-primary “slating” – long used by both parties – was in service of empowering voters. It applies in races where no candidate ran for a seat in the party’s primary. 

Read more: Democrats muscle through changes to ballot access, advisory questions

But Republicans cried foul, alleging the majority party passed the law to protect its incumbents from GOP challengers. Four such candidates sued last month, with 10 others joining them last week, and after Judge Gail Noll’s order Wednesday, they will appear on the November ballot – if they survive the normal process of challenges to their nominating petitions. 

“The General Assembly could make the revisions effective for the next election, rather than in the midst of the current election,” Noll wrote in her 12-page order. “Changing the rules relating to ballot access in the midst of an election cycle removes certainty from the election process and is not necessary to achieve the legislation’s proffered goal.”

Noll echoed the plaintiffs’ arguments from a Monday hearing, in which their attorney stressed that they weren’t taking a position over the constitutionality of the law eliminating the slating process for candidates to the General Assembly. 

Rather, Noll said, she sided with the candidates’ contention that the law’s application during the current election cycle violated their constitutional rights because it “impermissibly burdens their right to vote and to have their names placed on the November ballot.”

The plaintiffs were represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a libertarian outfit behind lawsuits intervening in state law and politics – including one that ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down “fair share” union dues in 2018. In a statement Wednesday, LJC attorney Jeffrey Schwab applauded Noll’s ruling.

“The General Assembly can change the rules for elections, but they can’t do it in the middle of the game to keep challengers off the ballot,” he said. “We are proud to stand up for these candidates and against yet another scheme to suppress competition in Illinois elections.”

Neither the attorney general’s office nor attorneys for House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who intervened in the lawsuit in favor of the law, immediately responded to a request for comment as to whether they would appeal the ruling.

Read more: Judge considering whether slated candidates can appear on November ballot

Though Wednesday’s ruling was aimed at the state Board of Elections, it won’t change what the board was already doing, as elections officials continued to collect nominating petitions from prospective candidates despite Pritzker signing the law on May 3.

Monday’s hearing coincided with the June 3 deadline for slated candidates to submit the requisite signatures to get on the ballot – 75 days after the March 19 primary as prescribed by state law. As of 5 p.m. on Monday, 16 candidates, all Republicans, filed to run in the November election via the slating process.

Objections to those petitions are due at the close of business on Monday, June 10. As of Wednesday afternoon, however, no objections had been filed.

Fourteen of the 16 candidates filed were plaintiffs in the suit, including one who filed his nominating petitions to the board of elections just minutes after the governor’s signature on the law last month. 

The only candidate who turned in signatures to get on the ballot before May 3 was Jay Keeven of Edwardsville, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Katie Stuart, also of Edwardsville. He was not party to the lawsuit.

Without naming him, Noll pointed out that the law would “arbitrarily treat” Keeven differently than the other 15 candidates. Even if she didn’t rule on the merits of the candidates’ voting rights being violated, Noll wrote, the law’s application in the middle of the current election cycle is still discriminatory because it “does not apply the same rules to all potential candidates.”

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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