The election laws in the state of Illinois are not a topic that is discussed often outside of college courses or political organizations, but their effect on political discourse in Illinois is far-reaching.
Though many of the regulations are sensible and beneficial such as a regulation forbidding a candidate from running for two offices that might conflict with one another, the ballot access laws, according to Crystal Jurczynski, Campaign Coordinator for the Libertarian Party of Illinois, “are tools used by the politically powerful to eliminate competitors when they can and drain them of resources when they cannot. These laws subvert the democratic process, waste taxpayer dollars, and keep good people from entering public service.” These election laws are written by two supposedly “rival” parties to limit the amount of competition available. The way they do this is quite simple.
For a candidate to appear on a ballot, they need to submit a petition with a certain amount of signatures. This is sensible as there must be some standard. However, the amount of signatures required is telling.
In Illinois this amounts to five percent of the available electorate for third party candidates. This number appears deceptively low to the uninformed. In reality, it translates into signature requirements of up to 26,903 signatures, a burden not shared by the two mainstream parties.
According to Jurczynski, the minimum amount of signatures required for Republican or Democratic is five to 10 times less than the amount of signatures required for third party or independent candidates. Quite often, third party and independent candidates will have their signatures challenged by local government officials in a manner that is unlike the treatment of signatures collected for the Republicans and Democrats. In practice, this means more signatures are required.
This, along with the candidate signature requirement, is of course, grossly unfair, but its purpose is obvious. It is difficult to create a new political party and the path to public service doesn’t get easier even with state recognition of the party.
By forcing smaller parties and independent candidates to collect more signatures, the establishment bleeds those parties dry of time, money and manpower. The system therefore interferes with and subverts the democratic process, wastes the money of the taxpayer, and keeps good, talented people from entering public service. At best, candidates who challenge the status quo are drained of valuable resources. At worst, they are outright eliminated.
If anything, it should be more difficult for mainstream parties to run and easier for third parties to field candidates, but that is not the position of the Illinois Libertarian Party.
Election laws should not be eliminated. A legitimate government ensures fair and just elections. The current election laws in place within the state of Illinois and elsewhere in the Union are patently unjust and favor a select political aristocracy. That is not what the Founders had in mind when they founded this country.
Instead, election laws should be blind to party affiliation. The Libertarian solution proposed by Jurczynski and other Libertarians, like most Libertarian policies, is simple and fair to the voters, the candidates and the parties who field the candidates. The current system needs to be completely overhauled and replaced with a modest filing fee system or else make the signature requirements for ballots the same for all parties, regardless of their political power or years of operation. This enables smaller parties and even private citizens to be more widely represented. One should ponder the words of our first President, George Washington in his Farewell Address in 1796 on the danger of political parties:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
We citizens have been complacent and have allowed this very scenario to come to pass. However, it is in our power to end it.
Daniel Kleeman is a college intern for the McClean County Chapter of the Illinois Libertarian Party.