Bill Redpath: Illinois has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws for third parties in the nation
By Bill Redpath
Chicago Tribune • Jul 10, 2023 at 5:00 am
The General Assembly has created the illusion of a robust democracy in Illinois by making it fairly easy to get on the ballot for local offices but very difficult to get on the ballot for the state legislature, U.S. House and statewide elections, including president.
Illinois has some of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation. Consider the 2022 general election results. While it is true that the Libertarian Party was able to place a slate of statewide candidates on the ballot, there were 118 Illinois House and 59 Illinois Senate district elections, none of which had a third-party or independent candidate on the ballot.
While there was one third-party and one independent candidate on the ballot among the 17 U.S. House district elections, they made the ballot only because the signature requirement is cut by more than half in years that end in “2″ (due to recently completed redistricting) and possibly were not challenged to prove they had enough signatures of registered voters.
Illinois has one of the most difficult petitioning requirements in the nation for U.S. House elections, requiring a number of signatures that is 5% of the last total general election vote for that office. No candidate for U.S. House in Illinois has met that petition requirement to get on a November ballot since 1974. While some non-Republican or non-Democratic U.S. House candidates have made the ballot since then, that was due to temporarily reduced petitioning requirements (for example, in 2020 due to COVID-19), or they were not challenged to prove they had enough valid signatures. (More on Illinois’ challenge process later.)
Illinois also has a signature requirement of 5% of the last general election vote for third-party and independent candidates for Illinois House and Illinois Senate.
On average, it will take about 12,000 valid signatures to be gathered within 90 days in highly gerrymandered congressional districts to place a third-party U.S. House candidate on the 2024 ballot. The average number of valid signatures to get on the ballot for an Illinois Senate seat in the 2024 general election will be about 2,900, and about 1,600 for the Illinois House. All signatures have to be from registered voters in the applicable district. Out-of-district voters don’t count.
This compares with averages of 1,000 (Illinois Senate), 500 (Illinois House) and even fewer signatures for U.S. House for Republicans or Democrats to get on the ballot for their primary elections in 2024, after which the winners advance to the general election without gathering any more signatures.
If a third party wanted to run candidates for all U.S. House and Illinois House and Senate districts in 2024, it would take about 450,000 valid signatures — probably at least 675,000 total signatures — to be gathered in 90 days to get those candidates on the ballot. Include a statewide petition to put a presidential ticket on the ballot, and that number will increase to more than 700,000 total signatures, compared with about 130,000 total for Republicans and Democrats to qualify for the ballot in all districts and place their presidential tickets on the 2024 ballot.
The petitioning requirement for 2026 will be even higher due to more people voting in the presidential election year of 2024.
Beyond high signature numbers, plenty of other land mines have been planted by the General Assembly for potential challengers. Each voter can sign only one petition for third-party general election candidates. Each petition circulator can gather signatures for only one party or independent candidate during each two-year election cycle. With numbers this high, paid petition circulators must be hired, and the best paid petitioners gather signatures for Republican and Democratic candidates to get on the ballot for their primary elections, after which they cannot petition for any other candidates for the general election.
Worst of all is the “challenge” process. Instead of having state employees verify collected signatures, which is the case in the vast majority of states, Illinois has a Kafkaesque process whereby petitions are challenged by people usually associated with Republican or Democratic candidates in an attempt to push potential candidates off the ballot through incurrence of large expenses (usually including attorney’s fees) and major hassles. It is a political sport to try to kick candidates off the ballot, including primary election ballots, in Illinois, and that should stop.
Illinois then has a high vote test to remain on the ballot for future elections. Only if a governor candidate earns 5% or more of the vote will a party be able to remain on the ballot to compete with the Republicans and Democrats for the next four years. That compares with a median percentage of 2% of the vote in other states, with that usually applying to any statewide office.
Our neighboring state, Wisconsin, requires a new political party to gather 10,000 valid signatures of registered voters, which then qualifies that party to run candidates for all partisan offices in that state. The same law should be adopted in Illinois.
The ballot access laws of Illinois are something that you would expect from authoritarian regimes, not a state deliberative body in a nation that holds itself up as a beacon of democracy to the world. I urge the people of Illinois to inform the General Assembly of that in no uncertain terms.
Bill Redpath is the chair of the Libertarian Party of Illinois and was the party’s U.S. Senate nominee in 2022. He is also the national ballot access coordinator for the Libertarian Party and the editor of Ballot Access News.