During the election cycle leading up to the 2010 General elections, Sharon Meroni, Executive Director of Defend the Vote, began researching how Illinois screens for the citizenship of candidates running for office. What she learned is that while both the US and Illinois Constitutions require candidates for office to be US Citizens, Illinois does not enforce the Constitutional mandates in their election laws.
Essentially, a candidate self declares and affirms that they are "legally qualified" to hold office. As part of the candidate application process they are required to fill out a "statement of candidacy" where they self affirm under oath that they are legally qualified for the office they seek. The laws do not define what legally qualified means.
The Illinois State Board of Elections, in refusing to follow apparent conformity laws, routinely accepts candidates for ballot placement that have not signed this "statement of candidacy" affirming they are legally qualified. While the US Federal and Illinois Constitutions mandate US Citizenship status, Illinois laws conveniently do not require candidates to prove qualifications. Proving eligibility for ballot placement is left up to the challenge process.
Illinois law provides a 5 day challenge process after candidates apply for ballot position. During this time, the candidates can be challenged for eligibility. However, unless someone knows for sure about the citizenship status of a candidate, no one has access to the information proving citizenship (or not) during this 5 day period; this makes it impossible to challenge the candidate based on these constitutional requirements.
During the 5 day challenge period, Ms. Meroni challenged all 32 candidates who wanted to be on her ballot to prove they are US Citizen. During this contest cycle, some candidates provided birth certificates (the objection petitions were withdrawn), some candidates filed 'Motions to Dismiss," and some candidates did not respond.
The Illinois State Board of Elections ruled in favor of the motions to dismiss filed by the candidates and they granted motions to dismiss to candidates that did not respond based on a brand new rule titled Rule 4. Rule 4 allowed the ISBE to act on behalf of the candidate.
In an action called a Judicial Review of an Administrative Decision, in the 7th Judicial Court of Sangamon County, Meroni challenged the ISBE decision on procedural and constitutional grounds. Judge Peter Cavanagh presided, affirming the ISBE decision on procedural grounds. Up until this point, Sharon Meroni was pro se.
Meroni retained Illinois attorney and Chairman of Defend The Vote, Steve Boulton, from McCarthy Duffy LLD. Meroni V ISBE is currently in the 4th District Appellate Court. On Tuesday, oral arguments scheduled for September 8th, 2011 were vacated by Judicial order. Mr. Boulton is responding by filing a Motion for Oral arguments.
The primary issue at stake here is a constitutional issue. If the Constitution mandates citizenship requirements, then the enforcing bodies need to assure these requirements are met. The secondary issue is that Illinois law does not define legally qualified. This allows for the affirmation of being legally qualified and thus eligible for ballot position to be difficult to challenge when there are questions regarding what legally qualified means and/or how it is proven.
The procedural issues at stake concern the wording of Ms. Meroni's original objection and also the application of Rule 4. This rule is new and has never been challenged. Meroni contends it is an overreach of the ISBE authority.
Regardless of the outcome of Meroni V ISBE (32 candidates) in the appellate process, Defend the Vote is preparing objection petitions for interested registered voters across the state to file, demanding to know the citizenship status of candidates applying to be on their ballot. These non-partisan objection petitions can be filed against any candidates filing for ballot position and are satisfied when the candidates prove the citizenship mandate.
Defend the Vote encourages registered voters in Illinois with a passion for the issues of Constitutional eligibility to participate in filing objections against candidates.
Stay tuned - This filing cycle for objecting to candidates applying for ballot placement is the end of November and early December.
For more information: Meroni V ISBE: Non Citizens have Unfettered access to Ballot Placement in Illinois
Two related articles on Meroni V ISBE and the Appeal see McHenry County Blog, Written by Cal Skinner.