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Third-party candidates net win with lower ballot requirements during pandemic

The filing deadline for non-establishment parties has been pushed back from June 22 to Aug. 7, while candidates will only need to gather and submit 10% of the signatures they normally do. 

Voters submit early ballots in the primary election March 16 at 191 N. Clark St.
Voters submit early ballots in the primary election March 16 at 191 N. Clark St.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

A federal judge on Thursday sided with third-party and independent candidates who complained social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic would keep them on the sidelines of Illinois’ general election.

Now Libertarian and Green Party candidates are guaranteed spots on the November ballot, while other independent and new party candidates will have more time to gather a tenth of the normally required threshold of nominating signatures.

The Libertarian Party of Illinois and the state’s Green Party chapter sued the state earlier this month, complaining Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order forced them to “choose between complying with the governor’s emergency orders intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus or engaging in the outreach needed to receive signatures to appear on the ballot.”

Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois agreed in an order issued Thursday, calling it “proper” to lower hurdles to the ballot during the pandemic.

Under Pallmeyer’s order, the filing deadline for non-establishment parties and independent candidates has been pushed back from June 22 to Aug. 7 — and they’ll only need to gather and submit 10% of the signatures they normally do.

That means they need just 2,500 signatures instead of 25,000 to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot for president, U.S. Senate, Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois Appellate Court. Other races have different thresholds.

And instead of only physical signatures, candidates can also collect electronic signatures “using a finger or a device such as a computer mouse or stylus,” according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Photocopied signatures also will be permitted.

Pallmeyer’s order goes a step further for the plaintiff Libertarian and Green parties, though, guaranteeing them spots on the ballot without filing any nominating positions for races in which they fielded candidates during the 2016 or 2018 general elections.

So voters are sure to see Libertarian and Green party candidates alongside President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as in the Senate contest. The Green Party will also automatically be able to name candidates to the ballot in the 5th and 12th Congressional District races.

“This legal victory is the first of many for the Libertarian Party as we fight for fair access to the ballot in an era when traditional petitioning is impossible and a threat to public health,” national Libertarian Party executive director Daniel Fishman said in a statement. “We think Judge Pallmeyer’s precedent will be a beacon for other justices as they hear the other Libertarian Party cases.”

Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is spearheading a similar legal effort to lower the signature barrier during the crisis to get referendum items on the November ballot. His lawsuit is still pending in Chicago’s federal court.

Not surprisingly, third-party candidates have faced long odds in Illinois political history, due in no small part to laws that make it particularly difficult for them to land a ballot spot. Besides the hefty 25,000-signature requirement, petition circulators for independent candidates must be people who weren’t involved in primary races.

At least 106 people have run for Illinois governor under various third-party banners in state history, according to a University of Minnesota analysis. Only 10 of those garnered even 5% of the vote.