SPRINGFIELD — Illinois ballot eligibility requirements will be loosened for third-party candidates affected this election cycle by state efforts to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In a lawsuit filed April 2, the state’s Libertarian and Green parties said social distancing and stay-at-home orders instituted by Gov. JB Pritzker made gathering enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot “practically impossible.”
Both are considered “new” political parties under state election rules, meaning their candidates must obtain a greater number of in-person signatures than those with “established” parties — typically, Democrats and Republicans.
Under statute, Libertarians, Greens and Independents have from March 24 until June 22 to gather enough signatures — in person with a canvasser watching — to qualify for inclusion on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Illinoisans have been subject to Pritzker’s stay-at-home order since March 20.
In a remote hearing Tuesday, Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer outlined general terms to ease those requirements this election cycle for all “new” party and independent candidates and asked both sides’ representatives to formulate the details.
She described pushing the deadline for candidates to submit petition signatures to the State Board of Elections to a date in the first week of August and reduced the number of mandated signatures by 85 to 90 percent, according to attorneys present for the hearing.
Independents or those in a “new” party needed at least 25,000 signatures to run for president or a seat in the U.S. Senate. Under Pallmeyer’s terms, the minimum required signatures could range from 2,500 to 3,750.
The judge also dictated candidates may collect signatures remotely. Voters would be able to print out a petition from the candidate’s website, sign it and either send a hard copy to the candidate through the mail or electronically in an emailed attachment or as a photograph.
Alternatively, voters would be able to electronically sign petition forms from their smartphone or laptop’s trackpad.
Both Oliver Hall, founder of the Center for Competitive Democracy and an attorney for the parties, and a spokesperson for the Board of Elections declined to comment.
Sam Cahnman, an attorney representing an independent candidate for president, said the terms Pallmeyer outlined are “good.”
“It is not everything we wanted, but I think overall it’s a big victory for independents — for democracy, really,” he said. “In a lot of these legislative races, there’s only one candidate on the ballot. We’re supposed to let people make their decisions about who they want to vote for, but if they only have one candidate on the ballot, they have no choice.”
Those conditions to be finalized differ from what the Libertarian and Green parties initially sought and what attorneys for Pritzker and the State Board of Elections offered.
The parties asked Illinois’ signature collection mandates be waived or suspended this general election cycle so their candidates could appear on the November ballot. In a remote court hearing Friday, Pallmeyer said that “is beyond the power of the court.”
“In other words, no test that I adopt is going to be, if you file a lawsuit, you get on the ballot. That’s not appropriate,” she said, according to a court transcription.
The state, in a court document filed April 16, submitted what its attorneys said was a proposal that “reasonably accommodates the candidates’ interests in accessing the ballot and does not impose undue burden on them.” It also maintains Illinois officials’ “important interest in election integrity.”
In part, voters under the state’s proposal would have been able to print out ballot petitions, sign them with a pen and return them to candidates either physically or electronically. The deadline would have remained June 22 and the number of required signatures would have been halved.
Hall, in a remote court hearing Friday, said “the logistics (of the state’s proposal) are just unworkable, particularly given the shortened timeframe, the lack of notice, and the lack of … infrastructure in place in order to be able to make a procedure like that work,” according to a transcript.