The Election File Voting Guide: The low-down on third party, independent and write-in candidates.

November 1, 2010

Voters who don’t like either the Democrat or Republican running in races in Illinois do have other options. We aren’t advocating anything here; we’re just laying out the possibilities.

You could vote for a third party nominee.

Because of Green Party candidate Rich Whitney’s relatively strong showing in the 2006 race for Illinois governor, the Greens are an “established party” for this year’s election. That’s a legal distinction that means it’s much easier for its candidates to get on the ballot. It allowed the Greens to hold a primary election alongside Democrats and Republicans this past February. And it means the candidates didn’t have to jump through the hurdles required of independents or people belonging to what’re called “new political parties.

The Libertarian Party is classified as a “new political party.” After a hard-fought battle to fend-off challenges to their slate of candidates’ 25,000 signatures, the Libertarians secured a ballot spot for this election. That’s why, along with the Democrats, Republicans and Greens, you’ll see a Libertarian candidate running for statewide offices.

One thing to watch on election night: how the Green and Libertarian candidates do in the race for governor. To secure “established party” status for the next four years, a party's nominee for governor must get 5-percent of the vote. In 2006, Whitney received more than double that, but if he doesn’t meet the threshold this year, the Greens will lose that status. And the Libertarian Party’s Lex Green could, if he gets the required percentage, win his party easier ballot access though 2014.

You could vote for an independent.

There are two high-profile write-in candidates on Chicago area ballots this year. Pawn shop owner and disgruntled former Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen is spending millions of his own money on an independent campaign for governor. And Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool, a longtime Democrat, is challenging his party’s county chairman, Board of Review Commissioner Joe Berrios, in the race for county assessor.

Independents face a much more difficult time getting on the general election ballot then major party candidates do to get on the primary ballot. In order to stave-off petition challenges, they both needed to collect many more than the required 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters. If Claypool had run in the primary, he would’ve needed to collect half as many signatures. And Cohen needed only 5,000 to get on the ballot in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

You could write in a candidate.

You cannot just write in your dad’s name. Your dad may, in fact, make a great commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. But he did not submit a “declaration of intent” to run as a write-in, and those had to be turned in back in early September to each local jurisdiction a candidate is running in. (That means a write-in hopeful who wants to compete statewide for governor must have submitted a form or letter to 110 different offices.) Your dad might feel proud he won your vote, but it won’t get counted.

So how do you learn who the declared write-in candidates are in your election jurisdiction? I’ve seen a big billboard for at least one write-in, and another got some big publicity – in part because she makes a mean breakfast. But what about the others?

If you live in suburban Cook County, you can see the list of eligible candidates on Clerk David Orr’s website. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners posted a list on its website (scroll to the end of the PDF) after we inquired about one.

Election judges at your local polling place will also have a list of write-in candidates, so they can count the votes at the end of the night. But the judges are under no obligation to show it to voters.

"There’s no statutory requirement for election judges to give a list of declared write-in candidates to voters when they come to vote,” said an Illinois State Election Board official.

And there’s a good reason for that, according to Chicago election board spokesman Jim Allen. He said distributing a list would be “kind of like providing ballot access” to candidates who didn’t go through the process of getting on the ballot.

"Write in candidates do not enjoy the same status as those who qualify for the ballot,” Allen said. But he said they do enjoy the same opportunity to win, if they’re able to convince enough voters to support them.

Okay, so that’s clear enough. But what if you misspell a write-in candidate's name? It might still count. Here’s this explanation from the Cook County Clerk’s website:

Complete accuracy of a write-in candidate’s name is not necessary as long as the election judges can determine a voter’s intent to select a specific write-in candidate. There should be some relationship between the appearance or sound of the name written or printed on the ballot and that of the write-in candidate’s actual name.

Happy voting.