How to kick your opponent off the ballot

November 26, 2010

Now that the filing deadline for the 2011 Chicago municipal elections has come and gone, its time to turn our collective attention to one of the oldest and grandest traditions in our great representative democracy:  knocking rival candidates off the ballot.

Didn't see that section in The Federalist Papers?  Neither did we.   But here in Illinois, the tradition of "ballot bouncing" is nearly as old as politics itself.  

And the last day for campaigns to file objections to nominating petitions is Tuesday, November 30th.  That means campaigns are in engaged in a frenzied review of petitions, determining whether and how to mount a challenge - or a defense. The whole enterprise is a bit reminiscent of water polo or synchronized swimming:  the real action happens underwater, out of view.

So, let's say you're a candidate in a competitive race hoping to kick a few challengers off the ballot - to help clear the field a bit (if not entirely).  What are you looking for?

One of the first clues is the appearance of the ballot petitions themselves. "The whole presentation has to be carefully put together and if it's not, right away, you know you should look at it further", says Richard K. Means, a veteran Cook County election attorney.  Turning in petitions that look sloppy are often an indication that they are sloppy.  When it comes to petition challenges, it seems you can judge a book by its cover.

Beyond that, you and your campaign staff are looking for a violation on any of the following list of technicalities:

- Petitions aren't notarized (Each page must be notarized)

- Petitions aren't bound (The must be bound)

- Petitions aren't paginated - and in numerical order (You get the idea...)

- Petition signer isn't registered to vote at the address shown

- Petition signer doesn't reside in the voting district

- Petition signer's signature isn't genuine

- Petition signer has signed the petitions more than once (You can sign only once - and for only one candidate in each race)

- Petition signer did not appear before the petition circulator in person (You must sign in the presence of the signature)

- Petition circulator isn't 18 years of age or older

- Petition cirulator isn't a U.S. citizen

- Petition circulator's address and/or signature isnt genuine

- Petition circulator did not appear before a Notary Public

- Petition circulator also circulated petitions for an opposing candidate

Any one of these violations could be enough to get an individual name, an individual page, or entire petitions disqualified.  Add up enough of them, and a candidate could be bounced from the ballot because he no longer has the required number of petition signatures. 

Currently, 20 candidates have submitted petitions to run for Mayor.  Watch for that number to shrink considerably in the weeks ahead.  That's because mayoral candidates in Chicago must submit 12,500 valid signatures to secure a spot on the municipal election ballot. For some, that's a hard threshold to reach - and sustain.

The first day of hearings in these matters is scheduled for December 6th, and the process of challenges, hearings and court appeals moves quickly - very quickly.  "It has to go quickly because we know that for sure there will be an election Februrary 22nd", says Means.

What Chicagoans don't know for sure is who they'll be allowed to vote for.