QAnot? Far-right conspiracy theorists knocked off Illinois GOP primary ballot — but they insist ‘We are not done’
Six Chicago-area candidates running for office on a platform of baseless claims about fraud in the 2020 election came up short on their nominating petitions, officials say. But the group’s gubernatorial candidate countered that they “would be embarrassed to be on a fake ballot with fake politicians.”
A candidate on a slate of far-right conspiracy theorists running for Illinois offices on a platform of baseless claims of 2020 voter fraud “altered” the group’s own nominating petitions in violation of state regulations, authorities ruled this week.
Now, candidates running on the “We Are The People Illinois” ticket won’t get the chance to promote their convoluted beliefs in Illinois’ Republican primary.
The group that filed to run for governor and five other statewide public offices in the June election was removed from the ballot Thursday by state election officials, whom the candidates have insinuated — without evidence — were part of a nationwide scheme to prevent ex-President Donald Trump from winning a second term.
Officials from the Illinois State Board of Elections say the Chicago-area candidates simply came up short in the number of signatures required on their nominating petitions — but not by much. Four of the right-wing hopefuls were just 155 signatures shy of a spot on the ballot, officials ruled.
Not that members of the conspiracy-theory ticket were disheartened by the close call.
“Our slate never had any desire to actually be on the ballot,” Wheaton gubernatorial candidate Emily Johnson said in a video anticipating their ballot bump. “We don’t choose money over morals and would be embarrassed to be on a fake ballot with fake politicians.”
Major party candidates for statewide office needed 3,250 valid signatures to have their names printed on the June 28 primary ballot. Candidates with political organizations typically submit double or more the required amount to fend off ballot challenges.
The “We Are The People” candidates submitted 4,228 signatures to nominate their slate, which also included lieutenant governor candidate Brett Mahlen and U.S. Senate candidate Maryann Mahlen, both of Orland Park; secretary of state candidate and former Chicago police officer Michelle Turney; treasurer candidate and Lake Forest High School staffer Patrice McDermand; and comptroller candidate Michael Kinney of Carol Stream.
The group’s website contains several references to a podcaster known for propagating the far-reaching web of conspiracy theories known as QAnon. The chief tenet of that unfounded belief system is that a global cabal of Satanic pedophiles plotted to prevent Trump’s reelection.
Garrick H. Phelps of downstate Coal City filed an objection to the slate’s petitions, describing himself as “a citizen desirous of seeing to it that … only qualified candidates appear” on the primary ballot. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Phelps argued that 1,868 of the slate’s signatures were invalid due to repeated submissions, ineligible signers and other issues.
After an April 14 hearing, a state election board officer ended up striking 1,133 signatures from their petitions because some “were altered after they were signed.” The group apparently changed the listing of candidates and offices sought on the headers of some of its petition sheets, election board spokesman Matt Dietrich said.
That decision left Maryann Mahlen, Turney, McDermand and Kinney off the ballot by a difference of 155 signatures.
A separate challenge filed against Johnson and Brett Mahlen also took issue with adjustments to the headings of their petitions, and a state hearing officer agreed, leaving them about 1,200 signatures shy of the ballot.
In the second challenge, filed by New Trier Democratic committeperson Dean Maragos, a hearing officer determined that many petition headings “were altered by Michelle Turney.”
That candidate acknowledged that she “struck” the Mahlens’ names from the petitions because they were considering a move to Texas, according to a sworn statement from Turney included in the election board’s ruling.
Turney — whose social media profile appears to feature a photo of her at the Washington D.C. rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection — referred to one of the group’s videos for comment.
“The Illinois Board of Elections’ baseless accusations and fantasyland stories rival any conspiracy theory that we could ever come up with,” Johnson says in that video.
“The purpose of our group is to show the corruption from start to finish,” McDermand said in an email. “We are not done; this is just the beginning.”
Illinois’ only bonafide allegations of voter fraud in 2020 have resulted in felony charges against five people in the west suburbs.