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Local

Elections Board wants to continue challenge of third-party ballot access

Matter might not be settled before the July 20 petition filing deadline

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois’ chief election authority told a federal appeals court Monday it wants to continue its appeal of looser election rules for third-party candidates.

If an appeals court agrees, the matter is unlikely to be settled before the July 20 petition filing deadline granted by Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois. She extended the cutoff established by statute in response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s election rules during COVID-19.

While the appeals court’s decision is unlikely to affect ballot access for third parties in the current general election cycle, its decision could have implications on future elections as the state continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its court filing, the Illinois State Board of Elections acknowledged that date is “quickly approaching,” but points out “it has not passed.” The issue presented in the case — “a District Court’s authority to rewrite Illinois’ statutory requirements that govern how the board conducts an orderly election during the COVID-19 global pandemic” — is one that might resurface.

The novel coronavirus is present in Illinois, the board argued, and will remain so for an “unknown” amount of time.” Because confirmed cases are rising in a number of other states and might climb in the Land of Lincoln, “it is possible it could last beyond the 2020 election and into future elections,” according to the document.

The elections board also wrote “it is likely” additional challenges to the election code will be filed before the Nov. 3 general election and any guidance from the appellate court would assist officials.

But by the time a final decision is made by the judge, any arguments posed by the Board of Elections “will be moot,” Oliver Hall, an attorney for the Libertarian and Green Parties of Illinois, wrote in a response.

He is also the founder of the Center for Competitive Democracy based in Washington, D.C.

The state previously challenged Pallmeyer’s authority to make concessions for third-party candidates this election cycle, including moving the deadline for them to file a petition, reduce the number of signatures needed for those petitions and allow for signatures to be collected electronically.

It wrote in court documents that it is improper for a federal court to dictate how a state conducts elections because that is a power granted to states by the U.S. Constitution.

Hall pointed to the appellate court’s decision in late June, when it denied the board’s request to suspend enforcement of those looser ballot access requirements, as evidence its case should be tossed out.

At the time, the court ruled that the elections board failed to show that a later petition filing deadline would “irreparably” damage officials’ ability to administer the election. It added third-party candidates would suffer “clear harm” if Pallmeyer’s order was undone.

Because it is not possible to alter those new ballot access rules in “a timely and fair fashion,” any court action would be “moot,” Hall argued, and thus continuing this case is unnecessary.

Sam Cahnman, an attorney representing an independent candidate, wrote in a separate document that in two years, when the next election will be held, a COVID-19 vaccine will likely have been developed. Therefore, he wrote, the board’s argument that its election code might be challenged at the next election is “unlikely.”

The State Board of Elections is asking the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals to agree the case should proceed and to set a schedule for both sides to file their arguments. It wrote in its document it does not want oral arguments.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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