As Candidate Filing Closes in Illinois, Some Want System Reformed

Monday was the final day for candidates to file in order to make it on the June 28 primary ballot in Illinois.

There were no major surprises as the window closed, with no big names mounting a last-minute challenge to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. With Petersburg’s Jesse Sullivan getting his petitions in before the 5 p.m. deadline, all five of the high-profile Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor have filed to run in what’s expected to be a contentious race.

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The other GOP gubernatorial candidates —  state Sen. Darren Bailey, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, businessman Gary Rabine, and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf  —  submitted their paperwork a week ago.

Another last minute filer was Tom DeVore, the lawyer responsible for anti-masking lawsuits. He’s running for attorney general as a Republican.

Other candidates for the GOP nomination for attorney general are lawyer Steve Kim, who is part of a “Take It Back” ticket of Republicans led by gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin, and Orland Park resident David Shestokas, who appears to have a barebones operation.

Also, former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin on Monday afternoon turned in paperwork to run for Cook County Board president against incumbent Toni Preckwinkle.

Still, matchups aren’t final.

There’s always the chance someone will be kicked off the ballot. Campaigns don’t just need enough signatures from qualified voters, they need good signatures. There are even rules about how petitions have to be stapled together, or candidates risk disqualification.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) said Illinois makes it difficult on purpose. 

“It is 100% about making sure that the people who have access to resources and campaign operations have a leg up,” she said.

Cassidy proposes Illinois take a new, more modern approach and follow the example of Denver, where they use an electronic method to gather voter signatures.

“Which would cut out so many of these steps, and most importantly cut out the time-honored Chicago tradition of attempting to get your opponent kicked off the ballot because somebody’s signature didn’t look like it looked when they were filing out the (voter registration) form on the counter,” Cassidy said. “I often joke, when you’re registering to vote, you’re writing everything very cleanly and neatly and your signature is your perfect penmanship signature.”

Cassidy said gathering signatures electronically would cut through all of that red tape.

Here’s how it would work: Candidates that chose to opt in would borrow e-tablets from elections authorities.

“You rent their equipment and you collect your signatures that way. And it’s in real time,” Cassidy said.

A candidate would approach a voter and ask if they’re a registered voter within that district. If the voter agrees to “do democracy a solid,” as Cassidy puts it, and agrees to sign the petition, “I hand you my tablet instead of my clipboard. I’ve just pulled you up in the voter file. You verify that that’s you, you check a box, you sign, it verifies that your signature is relatively the same — because we all know what we do on those electronic things too … and bada-bing, bada-boom.”

Cassidy says it would mean elections attorneys would lose some business, and incumbents like her would see more competition.

She said she’s good with that.

“Access to the ballot is fundamental to a functioning democracy,” Cassidy said.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough isn’t convinced yet. Yarbrough said she is aware of the measure’s broad parameters, but needs to learn more before forming an opinion about whether she would support it.

“I’ve heard about it before, I want to see what it says, what it does,” Yarbrough said. “What about cyber security? Things have to be safe and secure.”

Meanwhile, former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is going a different route that could speed the transition to electronic filings.

He wants a referendum question on the Nov. 8 general election ballot asking voters if they want to amend the state constitution, so that the public could in the future use petitions, or citizen’s initiatives, to require legislators vote on ethics measures.

Quinn said it’s the best way to move the needle on ethics, because lawmakers tend to stifle real change.

“What happens in Illinois, really for a half a century, is reform bills may be put into the hopper, but they never even get voted on by the members in the House or the Senate and we want to change that,” Quinn said. “We want to strengthen the everyday person, the voter, the person who pays the taxes, to clean up government and the only way to do that is at the ballot box. On their own legislators are always going to come up with tepid reforms, and I think we need no-nonsense reforms, real antidotes to the virus of corruption.”

Quinn tried to do something similar before but was “blocked by the former Speaker of the House, Mike Madigan.”

Now that Madigan has been indicted on corruption charges, Quinn wants to try again.

But the window to collect thousands of signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot is short and he only has until early May. 

Given that it’s still a pandemic, Quinn said voters should be able to sign an online petition that would put the ethics question on the ballot. He has already begun collecting signatures online.

Quinn points out, people can sign forms to buy houses online and taxes are filed online. Legislators also passed rules that allow them to cast voters remotely.

“So the politicians can give themselves this right, they ought to give it to the everyday people who passing petitions for a cause we all believe in: clean government,” Quinn said. “It’s high time we end corruption in Illinois, and do it at the ballot box where the voters tell the politicians what the rules are.”

A virtual court hearing is set for March 30.

Cassidy’s bill has not advanced with less than less than a month left before the legislative session is set to adjourn. 

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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