Monday was a day of significance on the Illinois electoral calendar, but just how much significance remains to be seen.
That day marked the deadline for independent and third-party candidates to file nomination petitions for the fall’s general election ballot. With respect to all candidates in every such race across the state, we turn to the top of the ticket, where Libertarian Kash Jackson filed his paperwork, as did state Sen. Sam McMann, a Plainview Republican who is running for governor as the Conservative Party candidate.
History tells us neither man is likely to win, but we only have to go back to 2010 to see an example of minority candidates having a major effect in November. That year, Democrat Pat Quinn was the incumbent governor, but since he was in that spot after the impeachment and conviction of Rod Blagojevich, it was his first time as the main candidate in a general election. His opponent was Bill Brady, who like McCann was a veteran state senator.
Quinn won the election, capturing 46.79 percent of the votes. Brady’s total was 45.94 percent, and the gap between the two was only 31,834 votes. Three other candidates in the race each individually collected more votes than that margin: independent Scott Lee Cohen got 135,705, the Green Party’s Rich Whitney netted 100,756 and Libertarian Lex Green earned 34,681.
As was to be expected at Monday’s deadline, some independents and third-party candidates raised concerns about needing 25,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, compared with only 5,000 signatures that Democratic and Republican candidates had to file to compete in the March primaries. McCann and Jackson exceeded those requirements – although opponents will do their best to challenge as many signatures as possible – but it brings up the question of whether the system is fair.
On one hand, equal access to ballots seems a bedrock American principle. On the other, the major party primary systems are established and entrenched, whereas other parties either have their own nominating process (the Libertarian convention was in March), or politicians like McCann can simply start a movement when the mood strikes.
Courts have held that the government has a legitimate interest in orderly ballots and voting procedures, and the petition requirements are one measure intended to protect that interest. Who can forget the 2003 California gubernatorial recall vote with 135 qualified candidates on the ballot?
We fully support legitimate pursuit of elected office as a means of promoting the cause of representative government. Everyone involved in this cycle was aware of the rules at the outset, and we do not question the legality of the current system. But determining the rules to be legal does not mean they are inherently fair, and we encourage interested taxpayers, especially those who do not identify with either majority party, to review their options for the coming cycles.
Minority candidates clearly can affect the outcome of elections in Illinois. If they can do so for a governor’s race, the same can be true for attorney general, comptroller, county board, state’s attorney and so on. But making those waves generally requires the type of political infrastructure inherent in operations that have decades of experience. It is completely fair to question whether the state’s rules are fair to political parties outside the mainstream, and given what we’ve seen Republicans and Democrats do to maintain power in Illinois, it’s hard to imagine the establishment doing anything to welcome newcomers. More candidates and better choices most certainly will result in an increase of passionate, involved voters, and that will be a good thing for Illinois.