Unaffiliated voters and candidates alike have historically been overlooked by Illinois' election code. But this year, elections in Illinois may get a makeover. Legislators have introduced several bills in January, all aimed at reforming the Prairie State’s exclusionary elections.
Rep. Scott Drury: HB 0330
HB 0330, sponsored by Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood), eliminates the requirement that voters declare a party in order to participate in primary elections. Under Rep. Drury’s bill, a voter is provided with all valid primary ballots and casts only the ballot of his or her choice.
Rep. Drury has been working on reform measures like HB 0330 for years. He says the goal is always to increase voter participation; especially, since voters are becoming increasingly put off from voting when they are forced to affiliate with a party.
“If we open primaries it would increase participation” said Drury in an interview for IVN. “For me, increasing participation should always be the goal.”
Rep. Mike Fortner: HB 0285
Another bill, HB 0285, introduced by Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago), changes Illinois’ primary election system even further. Rep. Fortner’s bill institutes a nonpartisan, top-two primary. All candidates would appear on a single primary ballot and the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Illinois' primary elections are currently administered via separate party ballots wherein only party-qualified candidates appear and the top vote-getter from each party primary advances to the general election.
Sen. Kyle McCarter: SB 0063
A third bill, SB 0063, sponsored by State Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), would effectively lower the signature requirement for independent candidates and align it with those imposed on political parties.
Independent candidates in Illinois are faced with a signature requirement in the tens of thousands in order to appear on the ballot. Whereas Republicans and Democrats typically only need less than 1,000 signatures to qualify.
The bill follows a district court decision in August 2016 where David Gill, an independent candidate for Illinois’ 13th congressional district, filed suit against the state for denying him ballot access in the November general election. He argued successfully that the existing signature threshold was unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.
The court ruled that there was no public interest in maintaining a large signature disparity for ballot access between established party candidates and independent candidates. However, Gill didn't appear on the November ballot as the district court's ruling was overturned on appeal.
Although the future of these election reform measures remains uncertain, a swell of similar bills are appearing across the country. The question remains as to whether or not partisan politics will prevail once more.