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Boot trickery out of election process

If people living in west suburban Morton High School District 201 want to vote for opposition school board candidates this year, they can forget about it.

EDITORIAL

Three candidates who planned to run on April 7 have withdrawn, crushed by the expenses of fighting off election challenges, even though the Cook County Electoral Board ruled the challenges were without merit. The remaining candidates are now unopposed.

We don’t know who would be the best candidates for the district, which includes Cicero, Berwyn, Forest View, Stickney and part of Lyons. But we do know elections should be decided on the basis of competing ideas, not by manipulating the election law. Unfortunately, the politicization of the electoral process is working its way down to local school boards and park boards, and qualified individuals are being blocked from running, candidates say.

To help reduce the number of frivolous challenges, Cook County Clerk David Orr has proposed legislation that would make it harder to knock legitimate candidates off the ballot by making them jump through unnecessary hoops. The Legislature should give the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), a serious hearing.

In the Morton school district case, the independent candidates burned through their entire campaign budget fighting off objections that forms they had downloaded right off the county clerk’s website violated the election code. They won their cases in front of the election board, but didn’t have the money to keep going when the objectors said they would appeal to the courts.

To reduce the number of such cases in the future, Orr wants the Legislature to impose standards of “harmless error.” That way, challenges can be tossed right out if the alleged errors don’t affect the integrity of the election process.

“People think they are doing something good for the community [by running for office], and they run into a really serious buzz saw,” Orr said. “We’ve created a system in which you almost get merit points by knocking opponents off the ballot. It’s something candidates brag about. . . . A few powerful figures want to keep that power in their hands.”

Election lawyer Andrew Finko said Illinois’ objection process is unique.

“It is 100 percent competing candidates filing objections against other,” Finko said. “These are not citizens bringing the complaints.”

Legitimate requirements, such as collecting the required number of voter signatures to run for office, are necessary. But let’s do away with the trickery.