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Monday, August 29, 2016

Illinois' Signature Requirement for Independent Candidates is Unconstitutional

The blog is back! (we went on hiatus for a week so the moderator could attend her son's wedding!).  We come back with an interesting election case out of the federal court (central district of Illinois).

A federal court has ordered the Illinois State Board of Elections to certify an independent candidate for U.S. House of Representatives to the ballot for the November general election, even though the candidate submitted petitions containing 2,161 valid signatures fewer than the amount required. Gill v. Scholz (C.D.Ill., August 25, 2016). Specifically, the court found that no reasonably diligent independent candidate could overcome the signature requirement in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District, and the 10,754 signatures required for access to the 2016 ballot unlawfully infringed upon the First Amendment free-speech and assembly rights of the candidate and the voters who signed his petitions. 

The court also found that the signature requirement violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, because there was no legitimate state interest in having such a large disparity between the number of signatures required for independent and new-party candidates, as compared to candidates of the established Democratic and Republican parties. In the same congressional district, Democratic candidates were required to obtain at least 733 signatures, and Republicans needed 739.

The candidate, David M. Gill, timely filed nominating petitions containing a total of 11,348 signatures, but after an objection was filed and the State Board conducted a records exam, it was determined that only 8,593 of those signatures were legally valid. Despite having submitted almost 12-times the number of valid signatures required of Democrats and Republicans, the State Board’s hearing officer issued a recommendation that the Board remove Gill’s name from the ballot. Gill and some voters then filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois seeking an injunction to bar the State Board from enforcing the signature requirement against him.

Plaintiffs presented expert testimony from a federal election scholar showing that since the year 1888, no Illinois congressional candidate has ever overcome a signature requirement as high as 10,754, and only three candidates have ever done so in the entire country. Only one congressional candidate in Illinois has ever overcome a requirement as high as 8,593, which was the number of valid signatures on Gill’s petitions, but that was back in 1974, before Illinois limited the signature collection period to 90 days. Thus, the court found that no reasonably diligent independent candidate could overcome the signature requirement in the 13th Congressional District.

On August 25, District Judge Sue E. Myerscough granted the injunction and ordered that Gill’s name be printed on the November ballot. The court found “the evidence is that independent and minor party candidates have not been able to meet the requirements and such candidates get on the ballot only if no objections to the nominating petitions are made or if it is a redistricting year when only 5,000 signatures are required.” Despite failing to meet the minimum, Gill “has obtained 8,593 valid signatures and shown a modicum of support. Consequently, because it appears Gill otherwise qualifies to be on the ballot, this ruling requires that Gill remain on the ballot.”

Post Authored by Adam Lasker, Ancel Glink

Disclaimer: Ancel Glink assisted the plaintiffs with this case.


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