By: Anthony Scarpiniti
In the 2016 Presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Illinois’ electoral votes by capturing 55.2% of the popular vote. Donald J. Trump, the ultimate winner of the election, carried 38.4% of the vote. The remaining 6.4% of Illinois’ votes went to Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson (3.7% of the votes), Green party candidate Jill Stein (1.4% of the votes), and other write-in candidates (1.3% of the votes).
In Illinois, in order to get on the Presidential ballot in the general election, a candidate must collect signatures from voters. The number of signatures varies based on how the candidate is classified by the state: a candidate affiliated with an established political party, a candidate affiliated with a new political party, and an independent candidate. Candidates in the latter two groups must collect significantly more signatures than those affiliated with established political parties. In order to get on the ballot, these candidates must collect either 25,000 signatures or signatures totaling one percent of votes cast in the previous election, whichever is less.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order on March 20, 2020. The stay-at-home order, coupled with the high barriers for third-party and independent candidates to be on the ballot, created an obstacle for third-party and independent candidates. Because of this, the Libertarian Party of Illinois, the Illinois Green Party, independent Kyle Kopitke, and various voters filed suit against Governor J.B. Pritzker and other Illinois officials with the hope that the court would enjoin the signature requirements for the upcoming election.
Plaintiffs in the case alleged that the signature requirements violated their First Amendment rights and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer of the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois agreed with the Plaintiffs and ordered that Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates be listed on the general election ballot for any office the party was listed on the ballot in 2016 or 2018. Furthermore, Chief Judge Pallmeyer lowered the signature requirements and extended the filing deadline for all other offices. The District Court later retracted the filing deadline extension from August 7 to July 20, but the rest of the order remained intact.
The Illinois State Board of Elections challenged Chief Judge Pallmeyer’s order by asking the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to suspend the order because “a later filing deadline could mean a ‘greater risk’ the general election’s ballot is ‘inaccurate’ and ‘harms the public’s right to a fair election.’” The Libertarian Party and Green Party argued that the Board of Election’s purpose was to prevent minor party candidates and independent candidates from appearing on the ballot. This challenge was ultimately unsuccessful as the Seventh Circuit was not convinced that the expanded filing deadline or reduced signature requirement would cause election confusion or chaos.
This case had the opposite holding as Morgan v. White, where the Seventh Circuit refused to extend deadlines or lower signature requirements for statewide initiatives. The two cases together have interesting implications. While seemingly opposite results, the main difference is the subject of the deadlines and signature requirements. The courts here seem to be promoting the idea that the rights relating to choosing a candidate are stronger than those relating to a ballot initiative. It is possible that this is because the right to choose a candidate is seen as more protected speech than the right to vote for an initiative.