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Judge rejects Green Party lawsuit over ballot access

Harvard gubernatorial candidate Summers says party reviewing options

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 1:25 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 11:28 a.m. CST

Illinois Green Party candidates for statewide office – including Harvard attorney Scott Summers – likely will not appear on the Nov. 4 ballot after a federal judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit aimed at forcing their inclusion.

While U.S. District Judge John Tharp Jr. in his 20-page opinion appeared to sympathize with some of the party’s arguments that the extra requirements imposed on third parties are unconstitutional, he concluded that he is bound to uphold the state’s constitutionally valid requirement when it comes to the number of signatures, which under Illinois State Board of Elections rules it did not meet.

Tharp called the Green Party’s predicament “a situation of the plaintiffs’ own making,” concluding that it had plenty of time before the election process started challenging the requirements, rather than filing a July lawsuit after the filing period ended. Candidates for the Nov. 4 ballot must be certified by Friday.

“What the plaintiffs have effectively created is a situation in which the only preliminary remedy that can be fashioned is to strike the ballot access provision that has been held to be constitutionally valid while allowing the allegedly unconstitutional provisions to remain. A cure that removes healthy tissue rather than the cancer has little to recommend it, and the plaintiffs’ reliance on that backward logic falls well short of meeting their burden ...” Tharp wrote.

Summers, the party’s candidate for governor, said Thursday morning that he and the other Greens on the slate plan to talk to counsel about their next step, and did not rule out an appeal, despite having a timetable of not much more than 24 hours.

“My initial reaction [to the ruling] is that there’s kind of a chicken-and-egg argument here, that we should have filed our arguments months if not years ago,” Summers said.

The Green Party collected just less than 30,000 signatures, which is more than the 25,000-signature threshold for non-established political parties, defined in state law as parties that received less than 5 percent of the popular vote in the previous election. But a challenge was filed against 12,000 of the signatures by Karen Yarbrough, a Democrat and the Cook County recorder of deeds.

Rather than fight for every candidate on the slate – a process that the Greens allege was itself onerous and flawed – they filed a federal lawsuit aimed at the process. But in not rehabilitating the challenged signatures, their candidates for statewide office are below the 25,000-signature requirement. The state board of elections will meet Friday morning to rule on objections to remaining third-party and independent candidates.

The extra hurdles that non-established or “new” political parties must jump to get on the ballot in Illinois exceed the signature requirements, which for Democratic and Republican statewide office candidates is only 5,000.

New parties must run a full slate wherever a candidate seeks office, meaning the Green Party could not just run Summers and lieutenant governor candidate Bobby Pritchett Jr., but also had to run candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and comptroller.

The larger number of signatures also makes the requirement that each page of petitions be notarized a larger burden, Because petition sheets for state office often have a maximum of 10 signatures per page, that means 2,500 notarized pages to meet the minimum requirement for statewide office.

Tharp stated in his opinion that several of the Greens’ complaints had legitimacy. He called the state’s support for the full-slate requirement “flimsy and bereft of logic,” especially given the ongoing debate over whether offices such as lieutenant governor and comptroller should be eliminated. Tharp also questioned the “baffling requirement” that each sheet of signatures be notarized separately, even if they were collected by the same person.

“The plaintiffs have made a strong case at least one of the restrictions they target is a ‘severe’ burden on their constitutional rights,” Tharp wrote.

Past court rulings, however, have upheld the state’s signature requirements for new political parties, citing that the state has the responsibility to prevent ballot overcrowding by requiring that independent candidates or new parties establish an adequate amount of support.

The Green Party itself was an established party under state law between 2007 and 2010 after Green gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney received more than 10 percent of the popular vote in 2006.

A similar lawsuit is pending in federal court over the Green Party’s candidates for two downstate Illinois House districts. But the party successfully placed Green candidates in two U.S. House races for the 5th and 12th congressional districts, both held by Democrats. It also has three candidates on the ballot for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

While the Greens likely will not appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, a state hearing officer upheld the Libertarian Party of Illinois’ slate against a challenge. The election board on Friday can split with the recommendation of the hearing officer, but has traditionally upheld the officer’s ruling.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the notary requirements to file for office.

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