Illinois changes election law to block some Republican candidates from the ballot

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (Image: YouTube screen grab)

Illinois Governor J.B. “Pritzker signs election bill that would favor Democrats in November,” reports The Chicago Tribune. Illinois’ Democrat-controlled legislature suddenly passed a law that will make it impossible for a number of Republican candidates to appear on the ballot, by changing the rules of the election to bar those GOP candidates from the ballot. This unanticipated law will keep local party organizations from nominating candidates just because they were not previously put on the primary ballot — which traditionally was not required in Illinois, if the local party had a consensus candidate it chose to put on the ballot within 75 days after the primary.

If the GOP had known this rule change was coming up, more GOP candidates would have gotten their names put on the primary ballot. To keep that from happening, Democrats relied on the element of surprise and deception. They took an existing bill unrelated to election law dealing with “child welfare services” and changed it at the last minute to contain sweeping changes to election law. By doing that, they got around legislative rules barring bills from being introduced and passed at the last minute.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Chicago Tribune  about this new election law that — as law professor Derek Muller notes — “changes the rules of ballot access in the middle of an ongoing campaign”:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed into law a comprehensive election bill that would give Democrats a significant advantage toward keeping their legislative majorities before any votes are even cast in the Nov. 5 general election.

Democrats already enjoy legislative supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate thanks to district maps drawn by party leaders following the 2020 federal census that were crafted to minimize Republican opposition.

But the election bill given final approval by Senate Democrats Thursday, a day after the bill passed the House, would further help Democrats maintain control in the next General Assembly.

Under the new law, local political party organizations can no longer appoint candidates to fill out legislative ballots where the party did not field a primary candidate. Previous law allowed the appointment process within 75 days of the primary.

Candidates feel ‘cheated, violated, robbed’ after Pritzker enacts law ending slating,” reports Center Square.

As Professor Muller notes:

One can, of course, oppose the idea of “slating” and prefer that candidates petition, in the abstract and as a general matter. But, the reason many candidates did not petition was the fact that they relied on existing rules to allow them to be “slated” by the party for the general election. That rug has been yanked out from under them, leaving a number of uncontested elections in the upcoming election. Cold comfort offered here from one Illinois legislator: “‘A candidate who would want to run for General Assembly seat after the primary will have to run, as they can today, as an independent or a third-party candidate,’ Harmon said.”

While I typically prefer to share stories without a lot of editorializing, I want to take a moment to offer one small observation. I waited for a couple of days to see how other media outlets would cover the story. After all, we are in an era where there is an explosion in journalists who identify as covering the “democracy beat” or looking for a “democracy angle” in stories. I wondered how the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, or CNN might cover these stories. After all, they are quite attuned to what local county officials in Nevada or Arizona are doing with respect to counting ballots, or every twist and turn of an election bill in Georgia. How about this? As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any coverage in these or many other major media outlets of America’s sixth-largest state changing the rules of an election in the middle of the campaign to deprive hundreds of thousands of voters of the opportunity to choose a candidate of their preference, and as a number of candidates who behaved in a way relying on existing laws have lost their opportunity to seek office.

As law professor Jonathan Adler notes, the bill the Democrats passed seems to violate the Illinois’ Constitution’s single-subject rule, but Illinois courts have so divested that provision of meaning that it probably won’t be something Republicans can challenge in court: “Likely violates the Illinois single subject rule…but not holding my breath on that challenge.”As Adler notes, “The silence from those” who “usually” express concern “about the erosion of democracy is deafening.”

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By GIL