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Who can keep sham candidates from screwing up elections? You

Elections at the local level are ripe for disingenuous and sneaky political trickery. The more that voters bone up on a race, the more a sham candidate will come up empty.

Voters from the 25th Ward in the voting booths at Ruiz Elementary School, 2410 S. Leavitt. | Rick Majewski/For the SunTimes
A citizen votes at Ruiz Elementary School, 2410 S. Leavitt, in 2019.
Rick Majewski/For the SunTimes

In just about every election, you come across sham candidates.

These are candidates whose names are put on the ballot for the sole purpose of drawing votes from somebody else. They don’t campaign or raise money or give a hoot about winning. Their job is to confuse voters and gum up the works of an honest choice.

The courts can’t stop it, nor really can the state Legislature. How does a judge or lawmaker define who’s a “real” candidate and who’s a “sham” without treading all over the democratic process?

It’s up to you.

The best defense against a sham candidate is an educated voter.

A federal court did wade into the issue last year, considering a suit filed by Jason Gonzales, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s opponent in the 2016 Democratic primary in the 22nd District. Gonzales claimed that Madigan had put two sham candidates on the ballot — a man and a woman with Hispanic surnames — to take votes away from Gonzales.

But U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly ruled against Gonzales in August, saying Gonzales did not have enough evidence.

On Sunday, John Seasly of Injustice Watch reported in the Sun-Times that a number of apparent sham candidates are on the ballot for judgeships in Cook County. These are candidates, named by Sealy, who have reported no fund-raising or spending, and they are notably absent at campaign events.

The right to run for office — to get on a ballot without jumping through ridiculous hoops — is essential in a democracy. But to ensure that a candidate is at least minimally credible and serious, our election laws already impose some limits. A candidate must sign a statement of candidacy so that his or her name is not put on the ballot without permission. And a would-be candidate must collect a certain number of petition signatures.

But how’s that going to stop a Mike Madigan, whose small army of political workers could collect enough valid signatures to put Santa Claus on the ballot?

Sham candidates usually win only a small percentage of the vote, but that’s often all that’s needed to thwart a patron’s foe.

Every vote for a sham candidate is cast in ignorance. The more voters bone up on a race, the more a sham candidate will come up empty.

We urge you, as a voter, to do your homework. Check out the Sun-Times voting guide at https://elections.suntimes.com/voting-guide/2020.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.