Legislators limit voter choice

Legislators limit voter choice

Election law in Illinois is often about rigging the game.

Springfield resident Josh Dill would probably make a lousy member of the U.S. House of Representatives, so his impending ouster from the ballot as an independent party candidate from the 13th Congressional District is no great loss to the public.

However, the lopsided election rules being used to squash his candidacy not only are an affront to the democratic process but a clear demonstration of how Democrats and Republicans want to limit their electoral competition. Members of the two parties have certain philosophical differences, but one thing they agree on is using state election law to block independent candidates from winning a spot on the ballot.

Dill's problem is that he wasn't able to collect the required number of signatures on his election petitions. He needs more than 15,000 but collected just 232. Dill is running on a platform of marijuana legalization, a factor that may explain, at least in part, his sorry petition effort.

But here's the rub — Dill was required by Illinois state law to collect 10 times the number of petition signatures that Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis and Democrat Ann Callis were.

That kind of petition disparity runs up and down the election ballot.

Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate must collect at least 5,000 petition signatures while independent candidates must collect 25,000 or a minimum of "1 percent of voters who voted in the (preceding) statewide general election," whichever is less.

The same rules apply for candidates for statewide offices in Illinois. There are similar burdens on independent candidates for the Illinois Senate and House. Republican and Democratic Senate candidates must collect at least 1,000 signatures while the established party candidates for the House must present at least 500 valid petition signatures. Independent candidates for those legislative offices must collect signatures from "not less than 5 percent" of the number of voters in the previous legislative election, a far greater number.

There is no explanation for these disparities other than a conspiracy of sorts by the major parties to limit the field to themselves. No outsiders need apply. If they do, the parties want to make sure it'll be just as hard, or even harder, to get on the ballot as it would be to get elected.

Some may defend this underhanded effort as a necessary tool to strengthen the two-party system. But a strong two-party system ought to be based on solid performance by both parties. Obviously, that's not the case here in Illinois, where the two major parties have competed to see who can be worse in terms of governance.

Nothing short of a court decision striking down these clearly inequitable rules will change the status quo, and so far no courts have shown much interest in doing so. But voters ought to at least be aware of how the system has been rigged not just against independent candidates but against giving the voters a broader choice. They might even consider signing an election petition if an independent candidate asks for some help.

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