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Illinois Independent Candidate Sues over Stringent Ballot Access Laws

by Carl Wicklander, published

In Illinois' 13th district, one candidate is suing over the constitutionality of the onerous signature requirements for independent candidates.

Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, first elected in 2012, currently represents the 13th district. Shortly after submitting his petition signatures, both Republicans and Democrats filed objections against independent David Gill. Gill ran unsuccessfully for elected office four previous times as a Democrat. This year, however, he is running as an independent.

As a candidate who shares similar positions with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gill could draw support away from Democratic challenger Mark Wicklund.

In response to the objections from the major parties, the Illinois State Board of Elections ruled that Gill lacked the necessary 10,754 signatures to qualify for the ballot. They ruled valid only 8,600 of Gill's signatures.

The boundary of the district likely led to the numerous invalid signatures. The 13th splits through different cities and counties, creating confusion among signature gatherers and voters alike.

A key component of the Gill lawsuit is the issue of signatures necessary for independent candidates to accumulate. Compared to Gill, Davis and Wicklund required fewer than 800 valid signatures each to qualify.

Gill and his lawyer Sam Cahnman say the signature threshold independent candidates must meet is "severe and overly burdensome." According to the lawsuit, only three independent candidates since 1890 have ever surpassed the 10,754 signatures Gill needed. None were in Illinois.

The lawsuit challenges the five percent requirement for independent candidates to meet. Independents need valid signatures equal to five percent of the people who voted in the previous congressional election.

Additionally, Illinois election law has varying requirements independent candidates must meet depending on the office they seek. Independent House candidates require substantially more signatures than independent Senate candidates.

According to Gill's lawsuit:

"There is no rational relationship to proportionally require three times more signatures for an independent US Representative than an independent Senator candidate (compared to requirement for established party candidates for the same office), when a US Representative holds much less power (one of 435 vs. one of 100); serves one-third as many years (2 years vs. 6 years), and represents one-18th as many people (18 congressional districts in Illinois)."

The Illinois State Board of Elections will meet on August 26 to determine the final ballot and the status of independent David Gill on it.

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