7th Circuit Upholds Chicago Election Law

     CHICAGO (CN) – A Illinois law that requires signature collection to get on the ballot, allegedly making it nearly impossible for Republican candidates to run in Chicago, is reasonable, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     In 2011, Illinois changed its election laws regarding candidates appointed by party leaders to fill a vacancy, which could occur if a nominee dies or withdraws, or if no name appeared on the primary ballot.
     If there had not been a previous candidate, the state now requires appointees to collect voter signatures for inclusion on the general election ballot. The candidate must collect 1,000 for nomination to the Illinois Senate, or 500 signatures for nomination to the Illinois House, within 75 days.
     Anthony Navarro and 15 other Chicago residents sued the Chicago Board of Elections claiming that the new law “imposes a burden so great that not a single person appointed to fulfill a Republican legislative nomination vacancy in the city of Chicago was able to produce the requisite number of signatures,” according to the complaint.
     There are allegedly so few Republican voters in some Chicago districts that “a successful petition passer would have to track down nearly 100 percent of all voters in Republican primaries and who still lived in those Districts within 75 days in order to satisfy the new requirement.”
     The district court dismissed the case as untimely, but on appeal the 7th Circuit said that the filing delay does not mean that plaintiffs may not face harm in future elections.
     Nevertheless, “we find that the requirement that candidates seeking ballot access submit nominating petitions is reasonable and nondiscriminatory, and serves the important regulatory interests of protecting the integrity of elections from frivolous candidates and preventing voter confusion. Thus, the challenged statute does not unconstitutionally burden the candidates’ and voters’ expressive and associational rights,” Judge John Tinder said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     All three judges sitting on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents.
     Tinder affirmed the district court’s dismissal, finding that plaintiffs’ challenge “overlooks the possibility that relaxing or abolishing these signature requirements could attract a significant number of frivolous candidates, leading to phone book-sized ballots and widespread voter confusion.”
     The judge continued: “Since the existing requirements that candidates for State Representative collect 500 signatures and candidates for State Senator collect 1,000 do not strike us as particularly onerous, it seems plausible that lowering this bar even further could open the floodgates to an unmanageable number of frivolous candidates gaining ballot access. The state need not wait for such a situation to occur in order to act.”

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