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Illinois Politicians On Making It Easier For Their Opponents To Make It On The Ballot

Amanda Vinicky

Illinois makes it tough for new party and independent candidates to run for office, especially when compared with the petition rules for Democratic and Republican candidates, but even a leading established party politician says the requirements are too tough.

Whether Illinois’ lopsided requirements are unconstitutional is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit brought by Bloomington Doctor David Gill.

Gill dropped a bid to run as in independent in the 13th Congressional district, but he's still suing to challenge the law.

To make it on the fall ballot, Gill would have had to file roughly 14 times as many signatures as established party candidates, including Republican Congressman Rodney Davis.

At a recent debate, Davis wouldn’t say whether the law should change, as that’s not up to Washington. “There’s always instances where signature petition requirements come into question,” Davis said. “These are the types of debates that I think our state legislators need to have. Maybe this instance this year will allow them to do that.” Davis’s Democratic challenger, Mark Wicklund, says he’s open a change in the law, but he also blamed Gill for coming up short with his petitions.

“I personally have been part of organizations that have gone out and got 100,000 in 30 days. To say that it’s impossible to get 11,000 signatures, that’s not right. It’s a clear method on how you get there, and the process he went about collecting … was the problem,” Wicklund said at the same debate earlier this month. “If we open this up to anybody getting on the ballot getting on the ballot, as an independent, we’re going to have a field so big it’s going to look like the Republican primary race.”

Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says there’s good reason for some disparity.

“Those of us – many of us here – are invested in a party structure that invests a lot in making sure we field a slate of candidates, year in, year out, election after election. If you want to appear out of nowhere and be treated similarly, you have to have a claim of legitimacy," Durbin said.

Still, Durbin says that threshold for is “too high.”

"You can put a number in place that is within the grasp of somebody who is hard working," he said.

The number of petition signatures a candidate must get in order to run for Congress depends on how many people within the district voted in the last election.

The sweeping 18th Congressional district (which touches Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield, Macomb and Quincy) may be the most drastic example of the disparity between established and new party candidates’ requirements. A Democrat running for Congress there needed signatures from about 600 voters, while an independent or third party candidate had to submit an additional 12,000 (for a minimum of 12,603).

There is no third-party candidate on the ballot for the 18th congressional district, where Republican Congressman Darin LaHood is facing a challenge from Democrat Junius Rodriguez, a professor at Eureka College. LaHood had to submit 1,014 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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