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Friday, May 24, 2013

7th Circuit Upholds Signature Requirement for Party Candidates

Illinois law requires candidates for public office to submit a nominating petition signed by a minimum number of voters to be placed on an election ballot.  That requirement also applies to candidates who did not participate in a primary. When 5 Republican candidates for state legislative seats were denied ballot access for failure to collect the minimum signatures, they filed suit claiming that the statute violated their free speech and association rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 
The 7th Circuit dismissed the candidates' claims in Navarro v. Neal (May 17, 2013).  First, the Court acknowledged that ballot access is a fundamental right.  In this case, however, the statutory restrictions placed on candidates were both reasonable and non-discriminatory.  Party candidates who participate in the primary election are also required to obtain voter signatures, so the law imposes no greater restrictions on party candidates who "skip" the primary election and seek to be placed on the general election ballot.  Second, the Court emphasized that the rationale behind the requirement is to ensure that candidates for public office have a minimal amount of support before being placed on the ballot.  Third, the Court opined that eliminating this restriction could lead to a significant number of "frivolous" candidates on the ballot, resulting in widespread voter confusion and "phone book-sized ballots."  The Court provided a helpful Wikipedia definition of a phonebook for "modern readers" who might not be familiar with such a device. 
In short, the Court upheld the Election Code requirement on the basis that it was both reasonable and nondiscriminatory and served an important governmental interest in preventing voter confusion and protecting the integrity of elections.


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