The right of access to the ballot is not absolute. There are restrictions placed on that access based on state laws and party rules. Generally speaking, these state laws define how candidates get on the ballot and the process that political parties and candidates must adhere to achieve ballot access. Technically, everyone has the right to compete to get on the ballot, but they have to do so within certain restrictions.
The state laws work with party rules to define how candidates get access. It is a complicated quagmire. In Illinois, the state assumes everyone should have access and provides different ways that access is achieved. The party rules are framed by Illinois election code.
In Illinois we have three stages for major political parties (Rep’s and Dem’s and in some counties the Greens) to gain access to the ballot. (There are separate processes for third party candidates and for new party candidates.) In the Primary, any candidate who files on time, and survives potential challenge to their filing will get on the ballot to run. If the initial filing period is missed before the Primary, candidates can run as a write-in candidate, but must register by a set deadline and if unopposed, they must achieve at least the same number of votes as required on the original petitions.
In March 2012, I ran for Algonquin Township 45th Precinct Committeeman as a write-in candidate. My name was not on the ballot, but I was properly registered as a write-in candidate. I won that race with 20 write-in votes. I was unopposed. If I had only received 9 votes, I would have lost.
Signatures represent support at the local level. Third party groups rightfully complain that signature requirements favor the incumbent. So far, they have stood the test in court challenges related to their constitutionality. They favor both the incumbent candidate and the more organized political structure, but also force those who want to compete in the political field to build a level of support before they do so.
A third stage for major party candidates to get ballot access expires today. In this process established parties that do not have a candidate on the ballot, can appoint a candidate through a vote by the local political groups from which that open position has constituents. This is called a Vacancy in Nomination appointment. Appointed candidates still have to get the required signatures and are also subject to challenge during the contest period.
The process to fill a Vacancy in Nomination varies between Cook County and the rest of the state, and further is influenced by which counties, and even townships are involved. An outsider might say it is deliberately confusing, but the effect of the law is to empower the local parties, who are impacted by the position in question, to make the decision to appoint a candidate.
State law defines who makes this decision. In McHenry County, a coalition of Republicans wanted to run a candidate (Tonya Franklin) against an unopposed Democrat, Jack Franks for the 63rd House District. Because the 63rd House Representative is solely in one county, McHenry County, the procedures to fill this position are specific.
The decision is made by the Committeemen in the McHenry County Party. I am one of those committeemen and that is the battle that consumed me this past month. For whatever, reason McHenry County Chairman and Illinois House Representative, Mike Tryon, defied Illinois Law and McHenry County By-laws. He did not use the correct procedures and refused to call the meeting for the committeemen to vote to appoint Tonya or not.
In this entanglement our coalition had to learn party rules and state laws. Ultimately, McHenry County Committeemen did not get their vote.
I learned many things from this experience. I don’t want to re-post about it here, but you can go to McHenry Count Blog. Cal Skinner has extensive coverage of this local story! Also Gus Philpott from the Woodstock Advocate has written about the meeting held on June 2nd at D’Andrea’s in Crystal Lake.
From a Defend the Vote perspective, I re-learned the importance of knowing local and state election rules. Timing is everything in election matters. I also learned about the power of a dedicated team when they put together a first-time event like a well oiled team. You should have seen this group!
And now, I've learned about multiple ways to get access to the ballot.
We will continue to cover ballot access here at Defend the Vote. There are a variety of qualification periods. One ends today, the one for third party candidates ends later in June.