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Filing For Election, Finding Lines And Friendship

Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Candidates and campaign staff lined up before 8 a.m. Monday in order to have a chance at being listed first on the March 2018 primary election ballot.

Monday was an important date on the way to the 2018 elections. It was the beginning of the period when Illinois candidates have to file petitions with, in some cases, thousands of signatures needed to get on the ballot.

The filing period lasts a week, but for hundreds of candidates, it was worth it to be in line first thing Monday morning.

Brian Mackey was there at the State Board of Elections, and filed this report.

The first thing you need to know for this story is that a few years ago, the Illinois State Board of Elections moved into a strip mall.

The second thing you need to know for this story is that a lot of candidates really want to be there right when the offices open on the first day of the filing period. I’ll come back to why.

For now, know that most get there early in the morning.

You can tell when people arrived by where they had to stand.

MACKEY: “There's a old Radio Shack, a Tuesday Morning, Chuck-E-Cheese's — where about did you get in line?"

MACKAY: "?Just past the Tuesday Morning sign, so maybe about a hundred yards back?"

Jeff Mackay is a Republican. He's running for judge in DuPage County.

A little father down the line is Anne Marie Miles.

MILES: “We got on to Chuck E. Cheese.”

Miles is running for state representative from the south side of Chicago. She’s not the first person to get philosophical about standing in line with candidates for governor and judge and Congress and the General Assembly.

MILES: “We think of the political process as a big machine. And yet you don’t think about the people who are standing out, carrying their little pieces of paper that they have gone out and knocked on people’s doors, stood on street corners and said I want to make my case to the public, please sign my petition."

And that may be the most important function of the filing period — it’s a moment when candidates have to put up or shut up. You can no longer just say you’re running for office; you actually have to prove you’ve done the work to get on the ballot.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign filed first thing, as did three of the Democrats who want his job: state Sen. Daniel Biss, businessmen Chris Kennedy, and Hyatt hotel heir J.B. Pritzker.

Not yet filed are Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber and anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, both Democrats. Also absent was the Republican who says she’s challenging Rauner, state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

They have until 5 p.m. next Monday.

Back at the mall, the back of the line is just a little ways down. You know you’re at the end because there’s a state trooper acting as a kind of human bookmark. For the people who were in front of him when the office opened at 8 ...

MENZEL: “… they have the opportunity to get first place on the ballot when they run."

Ken Menzel is the top lawyer with the State Board of Elections.

MENZEL: “There’s a — statistically speaking — a little bit of a boost in down-ticket offices with a lot of people running. First place or last place will tend to get a few more votes just from the first place or last place position.”

Some studies have a shown a gain of a few percentage points, which could easily be enough to swing a close election. But again, the research shows this applies to down-ticket races — county board or judge — not the top offices.

When it comes to elected jobs in Illinois, it’s hard to get more down-ticket than a political parties' state central committeeman — or in this case, committeewoman.

Rena Bever is from Mt. Carmel. It’s now about 10:30. She got in line at — well, let’s say it was closer to the Burlington Coat Factory.

BEVER: “Yes, it was down that far. We were here before 8; we’re just now getting in the building."

Next to Bever is Tonya Loker, from Wayne City.

You wouldn’t know this from they way they’re getting on, but it turns out that Loker and Bever are running against each other — for the same seat.

LOKER: “We just met each other.”

BEVER: “Just chance.”

MACKEY: "You just met each other?"

LOKER: "Yes."

BEVER: “Yes."

MACKEY: (pauses) “How’s that been?”

LOKER: “It’s been great.”

BEVER: “It has, it really has.”

LOKER: “And you what, if I’m not the lucky one, I hope she is, because she’s great.”

BEVER: “And I’m the same. Absolutely.”

Together, Loker and Bever represent one of the less-discussed benefits of this ritual of Illinois Democracy: a new friendship, forged in a shared experience.

Not bad for a Monday morning, at a strip mall, outside a Chuck-E-Cheese.

I'm Brian Mackey.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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