SPRINGFIELD — A federal court has denied the Illinois State Board of Elections’ request to suspend enforcement of looser ballot access requirements for third-party candidates in the November election.
The court ruled June 21 that the elections board failed to show a petition filing deadline extension — previously granted on May 15 by Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois — would “irreparably” damage officials’ ability to conduct the Nov. 3 general election, as they alleged in court filings.
The court added that third-party candidates — including those running for office under the banner of the Libertarian and Green parties — would suffer “clear harm” if the board’s request was granted.
At the end of April, Pallmeyer moved the deadline for third-party candidates to file a petition to Aug. 7, decreased the amount of signatures necessary for those petitions, and allowed for those signatures to be collected electronically.
The concessions were made in response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Illinois’ statutorily mandated elections rules during COVID-19. The filing deadline prescribed by state law would have been on Monday.
The appeals court wrote in its opinion that, “Despite agreeing to each of these terms,” the elections board asked Pallmeyer to reconsider her order a few weeks later. She opted only to move the filing deadline up to July 20.
One month later, on June 9, the board asked a federal appeals court to suspend enforcement of Pallmeyer’s order completely and allow it to “determine necessary election modifications” instead.
In court documents, it argued a federal court does not have the authority to dictate how states conduct their elections. It also alleged a later filing deadline could mean officials will miss federal and state cutoffs to finalize ballots and mail them to citizens overseas.
Such a motion normally would be filed in Pallmeyer’s court, but because the judge was unwilling to accept each of the changes to her initial order the board requested, and because the board wanted the matter addressed quickly, it chose to file in a higher court.
In its ruling, the federal appeals court wrote it is “mindful” the U.S. Constitution allows states “broad power” to conduct their own elections, but that power “encompasses the ability to agree to the terms” of a court order.
“Despite the board’s initial agreement to (Pallmeyer’s order), the possibility that it would suffer irreparable injury absent a (suspension) gave us pause,” the judges wrote.
It ordered the Board of Elections’ attorneys to provide additional information “explaining in detail and with precision” how a later filing deadline and reduction of required signatures — both of which the court pointed out were agreed to by the board — is harmful to officials.
It is represented by three special assistant attorneys general — Michael Kasper and Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP lawyers Adam Vaught and Lari Dierks.
In a court document, they argued 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 Federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act mandates all states mail ballots to military members and Americans living outside the U.S. 45 days before an election. But the accuracy of candidate filing petitions can be challenged and the process to sort those out can take as long as five weeks, the board’s attorneys argued.
The appeals court wrote in its ruling that evidence is “insufficient.” The elections board did not explain why the challenge process takes as long as five weeks. And, the judges added, when the board “agreed to the terms” of Pallmeyer’s order, officials were aware of federal and state deadlines.
“We conclude that none of the evidence submitted by the board shows that the July 20 filing deadline or the reduced signature requirement is likely to impede election officials’ ability to meet the deadline for transmitting ballots to military or overseas voters,” the judges wrote. “In contrast, the (Libertarians and Greens) have provided evidence showing that they would be significantly injured if we” suspended Pallmeyer’s order.
Candidates have campaigned for weeks to collect signatures by July 20. They might not make the threshold if required to gather a larger number sooner given the “current restrictions on public gatherings and voters’ reasonable apprehension about close contact” in the wake of COVID-19, according to the court’s ruling.
The board did not “explain what, if any, changes it would make to the statutory petition requirements to ensure that independent candidates are not excluded from the ballot,” the judges added. “Nor does it acknowledge the serious safety concerns and substantial limitations on public gatherings that animated the parties’ initial agreement and persist despite some loosening of restrictions in recent weeks.”
Attorneys for the Libertarian and Green parties argued in a court document Friday that the elections board’s aim was “nothing less than to prohibit minor party and independent candidates from appearing on the ballot, by agreeing to grant them relief from Illinois’ petitioning requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then to rescind that agreement on the eve of the statutory filing deadline (June 22).”
The appeals court also ordered the State Board of Elections and the Libertarian and Green Parties of Illinois to explain whether the case needs to proceed by July 6.