Illinois' Third Party and Independent Gubernatorial Candidates on Ballot Access and Electoral Reform

As I mentioned last week, I've been planning on writing up a substantive post on the most recent IL gubernatorial debate organized by Free and Equal. The debate was hosted at Chicago State University and moderated by Free and Equal Founder and Chair Christina Tobin, who is also the Libertarian Party candidate for California Secretary of State. All seven gubernatorial candidates were invited to the forum, but the Republican and Democrat declined to attend. On hand were: William “Dock” Walls III (Independent), Michael White (Constitution Party), Rich Whitney (Green Party), Scott Lee Cohen (Independent) and Lex Green (Libertarian Party). The candidates discussed and debated their proposals for dealing with the state's deficit, the necessity of ballot access and electoral reform, education, issues relating to minorities and single parents, their specific differences with one another and the major party candidates, the state's pension system, the possibility of founding a state bank, and gun violence, among other things. They covered a lot of ground.

The Free and Equal blog has already done an extensive round-up of mainstream media coverage of the event, and so, rather than write yet another overview of the debate, I've instead decided to post a transcript of the candidates' discussion of ballot access and electoral reform. The following is more or less a word for word transcription of the discussion, though there are probably a few errors here and there. I've emphasized points I found especially interesting in bold.
Christina Tobin (moderator): 45 independent and alternative party candidates just filed to run for office in IL. 42 of them are facing petition challenges. Many of them will be removed from the ballot even though it means incumbents will be running unopposed. What proposals do you have to improve democracy in IL?

Lex Green (Libertarian Party): Almost all of us here have been affected by these challenges. We need to implement new election law that is simply equal across the board. I have a perspective on this that has been ignored by some people. Our primary system is paid for by the taxpayers essentially to subsidize the Democratic and Republican parties and the Green Party now. Yet, at the same time, I was nominated at a convention that we paid for, the Libertarian Party paid for themselves. We're looking at a model that puts all election law, and laws affecting how Democrats and Republicans conduct their affairs, into state law, that is hardly a general purpose that is beneficial to the people of IL.

I do not have a specific proposal, but I would like to see a system where parties have their own conventions where they pay for their own selection process. Assuming this is politically undoable in the short term, we need to go to a fee based entry into the ballot. I don't have specifics, but, for example, 5000 dollars to get on the ballot, which is much cheaper than most parties and independent candidates have to pay for the process of balloting. That would make it even across the board, and I would also support a fee or signature option, 5000 dollars and 5000 signatures as long as its equal for all candidates.

Michael White (Constitution Party): I think we need to start with the Board of Elections and the statutes. The standards for the established parties and the standards for anyone else new on the scene are entirely different. 25000 signatures in 90 days for the rest of us, 5000 signatures in 90 days for Democrats and Republicans. New people coming into the political system are going to have a very hard time getting 25000 signatures. For new people coming into politics that is going to be very hard to accomplish, but that is what we need, new people coming into politics.

If you look at the primary, and as a voter I am upset, look at the primary, look at all the people who are eligible to vote, [but] the people who picked [Democrat] Quinn and [Republican] Brady only comes to about an 8% vote in [these] primaries, choosing who we're going to vote for. 8% of the people are telling us who to vote for! Like Lex said, they [the parties] might as well pick the people and save the state some money. If we do go on a fee based system, another bonus, the state is in financial problems, we have money coming into the state there. But if we don't change the Board of Elections to actually do the job and stop asking parties and people to go check through these petitions to determine what's good, it's a very ridiculous system. If I would have turned in 1 signature and no one questioned my petition, I wouldn't be having any problems at all, I would be on the ballot. Because even though the statute says you have to do these things, the only person checking it are those in the parties or individual citizens who determine to buy that petition and question it. We have to have the Board of Elections actually do work, count signatures, if that's what they want to do and do the work, and not put it back to the people of IL and the parties to go verify this information.

William "Dock" Walls (Independent): The laws of our Board of Election often serve as incumbency protection principles. They protect the people who are already in power. They make it almost impossible for you to get on the ballot as an independent. In fact, there's never been an independent candidate on the ballot here in IL for governor, as a pure independent. There have been alternative party candidates, but never a true independent. And that saps the possibility that everybody hopes for when they wake up in the morning. You want somebody fresh, you want somebody new, you want somebody who's out here fighting for you and fighting for the issues that are important to you and the communities that you serve and the interests that you represent. That doesn't happen in IL.

In other places like California for example, they require that you pay 2% of what the salary is of the position that you're seeking. So for example, for governor you come in and you pay 3,492 dollars and that puts you on the ballot. And then they also allow you to do a combination of fee and signature requirements. So it serves the purpose. They will tell you that the purpose is to keep "frivilous" candidates off of the ballot. And we understand that that's necessary, because otherwise you'd have a ballot that's as long as a baby's dream, but in fact there are better ways to do it than they do it here in IL, because if you're challenged, you go into an environment that is tilted against you, where you are now burdened with proving that all of these signatures that you submitted are legitimate and real. And that's done at a great expense to the tax payers. This process costs millions and millions and millions of dollars of tax payers' money at a time when we can't afford to spend it. So it's time to seriously educate the public and get people to understand that this principle isn't working for you, its working against you. And it only benefits those people who've been in power for way too long.

Scott Lee Cohen (Independent): I know the disparity better than anybody between the Democrat and Republican signature requirements. They're required to have 5000. As an independent, I was required to have 25,000! I was blessed to be able to turn in 133000, but the point is, as governor I would fight for legislation for the following. Number one is to have an open primary. Right now you go and you have to declare Democrat or Republican. Let's do away with that, let the people have their privacy, and go in and vote for whoever you want. Second, I would lower the threshold of third party and independent candidates so that its equal to the Democrats and the Republicans.

Or as it was said earlier, come up with a fee-based system based on what the salary of the position you're running for is. In other words, if I'm running for governor, and I'm going to get paid 150,000 dollars a year, then I would have to pay 10% or 15% of that as a fee to be put on the ballot. It could be either/or, but that is a phenomenal system. And again, as governor I will fight for equality. I've always been a believer that people deserve choice. You shouldn't be forced into a two-party system voting for Democrat or Republican and I will make it my mission to make this as open and equal and fair as possible.

Rich Whitney (Green): I think it's no secret how you address the problem. IL has one of the most repressive and restrictive ballot access laws in the United States, as everyone here at this table knows form first hand experience. We've heard about the 25,000 signature requirement. It's absurd. We need to reduce the ballot access requirements to something much more reasonable. I would suggest something on the order of maybe 3000 for a statewide race, 500 for a state rep or state senate race, and keep it much more reasonable and much more attainable. One thing we don't suffer from in our political system is too many choices. Certainly not here in IL. We have too few. As a matter of fact, we have the obscene spectacle of many places where incumbents are running unopposed. It's absolutely ridiculous. How is that in any way a democratic republic? How is that giving voters real choices? We need to reverse that.

We also need to reverse the change to the law that occurred just last year, that the Democrats and Republicans ganged up and pushed through, which changed the slating requirement. We called it in the Green Party, we called it the Protect Incumbents Act of 2009. Because what it did is, instead of, after the primary if you wanted to slate a candidate you had your committee get together and they could slate the candidate, and that way you'd have more competitive elections. Well they changed that so that in order to slate a candidate, now you not only have to have your committee meet and slate a candidate you also have to get the same number of signatures that you would have to get to run in the primary anyway, and you have to get it in 45 days instead of 90 days. The Democrats and Republicans ganged up and pushed that through. It was aimed at the Green Party after we won established party status in 2006, but it hurts all of us, it hurts all of the other parties, it hurts all of you as voters. So that's one thing I would do is fight to repeal that pernicious law as well as lower the ballot access requirements.

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