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Monday, May 10, 2021

Candidates Who Relied on Wrong Signature Requirement Found Not Eligible

Not surprisingly, we've seen a number of court decisions regarding the April municipal elections, even a few decisions by the Illinois Supreme Court. In today's opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that two candidates for municipal office were not eligible to run for the office of Village President because they failed to obtain the required number of signatures for an independent candidate. Corbin v. Schroeder.

Two candidates filed nominating petitions with the Village to run for Village President. One candidate filed 50 signatures and the other filed 32 signatures. Corbin filed objections to both candidates' petitions and a hearing was held by the Village's Electoral Board. Corbin argued that the candidates were required to file between 118 and 188 signatures under Section 10-3 of the Election Code for independent candidates that signatures, which requires signatures between 5% to 8% of the voters who voted at the last regular election in the Village where Village officers were elected. The candidates, on the other hand, argued that they had justifiably relied on the Village Clerk's statements that they only needed signatures for 1% of the votes cast at the last preceding election in the Village for president, the requirement that applies to non-partisan candidates.

The Electoral Board found in favor of the candidates, finding that they justifiably relied on the Village Clerk's statements on the number of required signatures. The circuit court and appellate court both agreed, and upheld the Electoral Board's ruling in favor of the candidates. The objector appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which reversed the Electoral Board.

First, the Illinois Supreme Court distinguished between candidates running as independents in partisan elections and non-partisan elections. Here, the Court determined that the Village had never adopted by referendum a non-partisan election process, so candidates were required to follow the independent signature requirements, not the non-partisan candidate signature requirements.

Second, the Court stated that the signature requirements in the Election Code are mandatory.

Third, the Court rejected the rationale given by the lower courts and the Electoral Board that the pandemic played a part in the signature requirement analysis. The Court noted that there was no pandemic exception to the mandatory signature requirements in Section 10-3 of the Election Code.

In rejecting the candidates' argument that their nominating petitions should be valid because they relied on the Village Clerk's statements about the required signatures, the Court stated as follows:

Though we remain cognizant that ballot access is a substantial right, we believe the best safeguard of that right is fidelity to the Election Code and not unrestrained discretion by a local election official inexplicably confused about the statutory distinction between partisan and nonpartisan elections. 


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