Judicial candidate chaos reined in

July 18, 2011

By Kristen McQueary

A bill Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed aims to limit the chaotic nature of judicial candidate filings in Cook County.

Under the new law (Senate Bill 1586), candidates for judge will no longer be allowed to file for multiple races. Historically, the dozens of judicial candidates who run for office collect signatures and file in several races – a subcircuit, a countywide district, an appellate seat and so on – and then withdraw from all but one during the final stretch of the filing period.

The multiple filings allow them to size up their competition before committing to a race. Candidates may, for example, try to avoid a race with a female candidate who has an Irish surname. Studies have shown greater success on the ballot for that sub-group.

“Running for judge became more of a politically based game than a merit-based game,” Evergreen Park-based elections attorney Burt Odelson said.   

The new law forces candidates to take their races more seriously, elections officials said. They will be permitted to file for only two races, and then narrow their decision to one.

Lawmakers approved the change last month during a special meeting in Springfield to address unfinished budget matters. They approved money for ongoing construction projects and voted on the elections bill.

The elections measure also caps for the first time signatures General Assembly candidates must collect to appear on the ballot. House of Representative candidates must collect 500 but no more than 1,500 signatures while Senate candidates must collect 1,000 but no more than 3,000.

The change makes it more difficult for candidates to insulate themselves from a ballot challenge by turning in signatures well above the minimum amount. The new rules will force them to collect signatures from eligible voters in their districts, rather than throwing thousands of “bad” signatures on petition sheets, which become too expensive to challenge. 

Kristen McQueary covers state government for WBEZ and the Chicago News Cooperative.