How the Chicago Machine Renders Voters Irrelevant

The Chicago Machine Steals Offices, Not Just Votes

The Chicago Democratic machine discovered that stealing entire political offices generates more political power than just stealing votes. In the November 6, 2012 election, 90% of the Democratic state senate candidates from Chicago had no political opposition. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of Chicago Democratic candidates for state representative did not face a political opponent. One hundred percent (100%) of the Democratic candidates for Cook County Circuit Court judge from Chicago were without a political challenger.1 How did the machine pull off this election day farce? Read on.

Voters are irrelevant every time candidates run unopposed. Since the percentage of candidates running unopposed is increasing, it means Chicago voters are becoming more irrelevant with each ensuing election.

There is a storied history of the machine’s ability to render voters irrelevant, including for the benefit of President Barack Obama. In Obama’s first state senate election, Democratic election officials suspiciously removed all four of Obama’s opponents, including incumbent State Senator Alice Palmer. The ballot access denial of Obama’s challengers allowed Obama to run unopposed in his first bid for public office–like the vast majority of state legislators in November, 2012.

Democracy is much more than citizens voting on election day. Chinese citizens have a right to vote, but election experts don’t consider China a democracy. The voting philosophy of the Communist Party and the Chicago Democratic party are similar: Citizens may exercise their right to vote, but when voters cast their ballots, they must vote for the party’s candidate.

It is not Chicago voters who determine their elected representatives. Instead it’s the machine’s state legislators who created laws that govern ballot access and elections. Unscrupulous public officials have mastered the art of tampering with election laws to disenfranchise voters of their right to choose their own elected representatives. They have done this by denying non-machine candidates ballot access; thereby, eliminating virtually all of their political competition.

The Timeline for Rendering Voters Irrelevant

The timeline below documents how the Chicago machine manipulated election laws to render non-machine candidates extinct. More importantly, when you look at the timeline, it is quite obvious that machine legislators, created a plethora of onerous election laws immediately after the FBI in 2004 stopped the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley from rigging jobs and elections.

Between 2005 and 2008 machine legislators increased the number of petition signatures needed to run for state senator by 67%, increased the number of signatures needed to run for state representative by 67%, doubled the number of signatures needed to run for alderman from 1% to 2%, extended the power of the mayor to fill an aldermanic vacancy from 24 months to 28 months, and extended the power of the Chicago City Council to fill a vacancy for mayor from 24 months to 28 months. The purpose of these ballot-access barriers was to render voters irrelevant.


1972 Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley signs the original Shakman Decree in federal court. The city no longer bases personnel decisions on how effective employees are at campaigning for machine candidates. City employees were previously demoted, fired, promoted, or retained depending on the number of votes they brought in for machine candidates on election day.
1983 Chicago Mayor Harold Washington extends the Shakman Decree to cover the hiring of new city employees. The 1983 Shakman Decree outlaws hiring City of Chicago employees because of their ability or willingness to campaign for machine candidates.
1988 Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley promises city jobs to his mayoral campaign workers in violation of the Shakman Decrees. Ironically Richard M. Daley’s promise of patronage jobs to his campaign workers violates a federal court order that his father Mayor Richard J. Daley consented to in 1972.
1989 Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration sets up an elaborate job- and election-rigging scheme involving thousands of government workers and countless elections. City workers’ jobs depend on their campaigning for candidates for alderman, mayor, state senator, state representative, U.S. congressman, U.S. senator, and president of the U.S.
1996 The Chicago Board of Elections suspiciously denies ballot access to Barack Obama’s four opponents, including incumbent State Senator Alice Palmer. Obama serves in the Illinois state senate when the rigging of jobs and elections in Illinois are at their highest point.
1997 To protect Mayor Richard M. Daley’s job, the Illinois state legislature switches elections for Chicago mayor from a partisan to a non-partisan format. To further secure Mayor Daley’s positions as mayor and machine boss, the number of signatures required to run for mayor jumps from 2,261 signatures for Democrats and 278 signatures for Republicans to 25,000 signatures for all candidates. The number of signatures to run for city clerk and city treasurer also increases from 2,261 signatures for Democrats and 278 signatures for Republicans to 25,000 signatures for all candidates.
2004 The FBI uncovers and stops Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration’s jobs and elections rigging. The fixing of jobs and elections that started in 1988 with the mayoral campaign of Richard M. Daley ends 16 years later.
2005 Federal Court Judge Wayne R. Andersen appoints monitors to oversee five local branches of government, including the City of Chicago. Because of the FBI and federal court monitors, the machine can no longer rely on government workers to unlawfully campaign for its candidates. The machine turns to onerous election laws to maintain its political power. The number of voters’ signatures required for candidates to run for state senator and state representative increases by 67%.
2006 The number of signatures to run for alderman doubles from 1% to 2%.
2008 The time frame for Chicago’s mayor to appoint an alderman to fill a vacancy increases from 24 months to 28 months. The four additional months means the mayor now can appoint more alderman to the Chicago City Council. The time frame for the Chicago City Council to fill a vacancy for mayor also increases from 24 months to 28 months.
2011 Richard M. Daley leaves the mayor’s office after having appointed 38%, or 19, of Chicago’s 50 aldermen.
2012 18 of 20 candidates for state senate (90%), 28 of 36 candidates for state representative (78%), and 28 of 28 candidates (100%) for Cook County judge from Chicago run unopposed. The lack of political competition for the state legislature is the result of the 2005 ballot access law that increased signature requirements by 67%. The Democratically controlled Chicago Board of Elections invalidates 72% of signatures submitted by nine Republican candidates and denies all of them ballot access.

The undemocratic elections on November 6, 2012 were the result of the events explained in the timeline and the information discussed below.

The Shakman Decree Supposedly Ended Patronage

After losing an election, attorney Michael Shakman and others sued the City of Chicago and Cook County in 1969. In addition to his claim that his First Amendment right of free speech had been violated, Mr. Shakman successfully argued in federal court that non-machine candidates could not compete for political office because machine candidates had an army of patronage workers that were paid for by taxpayers.

In the 1960s and 1970s Illinois election laws made it easier for non-machine candidates to appear on the ballot than it is today. However, most non-machine candidates were crushed anyway. The reason was the machine’s 30,000 to 40,000 patronage workers who were required to bring in votes for machine candidates or else be fired from their government jobs.

Shakman finally won his case, and the ensuing 1972 Shakman Decree was supposed to produce fair and competitive elections since it eliminated machine candidates’ substantial advantage of requiring government employees to perform campaign work.

At his 1983 inaugural, Mayor Harold Washington declared, “The machine is dead.” Mayor Washington knew that patronage workers were the heart and soul of the machine and the foundation of its political victories. In his first year as mayor, Washington extended the coverage of the Shakman Decree when he agreed to remove patronage from Chicago’s hiring process. Even though the Shakman Decree was to remain in effect after Mayor Washington left office, by consenting to end patronage hiring immediately, Harold Washington sought to prevent the machine from causing political oppression and tyranny once he was no longer mayor of Chicago. Unfortunately, Mayor Washington’s dream of democracy turned into a nightmare.

The Daley Administration’s 15-Year Election Rigging Scheme

Richard M. Daley was the Cook County States Attorney in 1988 when he was first elected mayor of Chicago. As states attorney, Richard Daley, Cook County’s highest legal officer, and his brother Bill, the recent Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff under Barack Obama, promised political jobs to Richard’s campaign workers in blatant violation of the Shakman Decree. Ironically, the Daley brothers violated a federal court order that their father, Richard J. Daley, originally signed into law in 1972. Richard M. Daley, just like his father Richard J. Daley, relied on patronage workers to remain a Chicago political boss. The main difference was that when the senior Daley did it, it was legal.

From 1989 until the FBI uncovered the illegal practice in 2004, Richard M. Daley’s administration rigged elections. High ranking Daley administration employees and their underlings were convicted for their part in violating the Shakman Decree. Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, Deputy Water Department Commissioner Donald Tomczak, and Intergovernmental Affairs Director Robert Sorich spent time in federal prison after a judge or jury declared them guilty.

Mayor Richard M. Daley easily beat political opponents thanks to his thousands of taxpayer-funded campaign workers. But this huge and unlawful advantage was not enough for him. Daley used his substantial influence and political power to change ballot access requirements to make it even harder to run against him. To insure that he remained mayor, Daley needed the help of state legislators to enact election laws in his favor.

Mayor Daley Had Illinois Election Laws Changed to Benefit Himself 

Richard M. Daley, who was a state senator for eight years before he was elected Cook County States Attorney, relied on his ally Illinois House of Representatives Speaker Michael Madigan to champion ballot access barriers that protected Daley’s job as mayor. In return for passing election laws that made it easier for Daley to remain in the mayor’s office, taxpayer-funded patronage workers were placed at Speaker Madigan’s disposal to campaign for him and his handpicked candidates. Madigan’s patronage workers were hired by the Daley administration in violation of the Shakman Decree. At the Al Sanchez federal court trial, Streets and Sanitation Personnel Director Jack Drumgould referred to Chicago’s Bureau of Electricity as “Madigan Electric” because so many of the Bureau’s employees were Madigan precinct captains.

Eight years into Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 22-year reign as mayor, he called on his ally House Speaker Michael Madigan to change Chicago’s election for mayor from a partisan to a non-partisan election. The switch was for job security. Unlike Mayor Jane Byrne who lost her bid to stay in office by finishing second in a primary, Daley knew that if he came in second in a non-partisan race he would still have a second chance to win in a runoff election.

As further protection for Mayor Daley, the signature requirement to run for mayor increased from 2,261 for a Democrat in 1995 to 25,000 for 1999 mayoral candidates. The Republican signature requirement jumped from 278 to 25,000. The high signature requirement stood as a deterrent and obstacle for those who dared to challenge Daley. On the other hand, Mayor Daley could easily collect 25,000 signatures in a weekend. Thousands of city employee patronage jobs depended on their circulating petitions and collecting signatures on behalf of Daley.

The signature requirements for a candidate to run for Chicago city clerk and treasurer also increased from 2,261 for a Democrat and 278 for a Republican in 1995 to 25,000 signatures in 1999. The same political organization that circulated petitions for Mayor Daley also collected signatures for the machine’s city clerk and city treasurer candidates. The machine has won more city clerk and treasurer elections than elections for mayor. A high signature requirement is the main reason the machine has controlled these two lesser offices. All major U.S. cities have signature requirements to run for city clerk and city treasurer less than the number of signatures required to run for mayor except Chicago.

Daley Extended Election Rigging from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

The mission of the Daley administration’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs was to work with elected officials and governments outside the City of Chicago. It was also the heart and center of the Daley administration’s election rigging. Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak testified that three consecutive Intergovernmental Affairs commissioners provided him with names of candidates that he and his 225 illegal patronage workers were to campaign for. In return for campaigning for Daley’s favored candidates, Tomczak’s political workers were rewarded with city jobs and salaries paid with taxpayers’ money in violation of federal law.2

Mayor Richard M. Daley found the best way to extend his power beyond Chicago was for his Intergovernmental Affairs office to supply politicians with campaign workers and votes. During several federal court corruption trials, witnesses said that Daley’s patronage army unlawfully campaigned for aldermen, state senators, state representatives, U.S. congressmen, U.S. senators, and presidential candidates. For example, Donald Tomczak testified that his political group campaigned for Rahm Emanuel the first time Emanuel was elected to Congress. There is no doubt that the support of Tomczak’s unlawful political organization made the difference in Emanuel’s close 2002 congressional primary victory.2

Tomczak also testified that he and his political organization campaigned for presidential candidate Al Gore in 2004. Tomczak’s admission about his role in Gore’s campaign is significant. Mayor Daley’s brother Bill was Al Gore’s presidential campaign chairman when Tomczak’s group undertook the unlawful electioneering.2

At Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez’s trial, witness Roberto Medino mentioned Bill Daley’s involvement in the establishment of his brother’s election rigging. Bill Daley told Chicago reporter Dan Mihalopoulos, “There was nothing illegal about that stuff.” Bill Daley’s comment is proof of his ignorance and the public’s gullibility. Bill Daley told Mihalopoulos a big fat lie. In spite of Bill Daley’s false claim, Al Sanchez and others were sent to federal prison for their role in rigging jobs and elections.

Mayor Richard M. Daley Defiled the U.S. Constitution

The illegal and unfair way Mayor Richard M. Daley was elected and governed was an affront to the U.S. Constitution and democracy. Besides rendering Chicago voters irrelevant, Mayor Daley also rendered the votes of Chicago’s 50 aldermen irrelevant. Mayor Daley’s vote was the only vote that really mattered during the 22 years he was mayor.

Daley’s unchecked power meant that he got whatever he wanted. When Daley wanted the Chicago Bears to play football outdoors, Soldier Field was remodeled without a dome. When Daley wanted a 2016 Chicago Olympics, President Obama and his 300-person entourage traveled to Copenhagen to bid for a Daley Olympics. When Daley wanted Meigs Field closed, Daley ordered the airport’s runways bulldozed in the middle of the night without permission from the FAA. When Daley wanted a 75-year parking meter lease contract with a private firm, Daley got it, to the chagrin of Chicago motorists who are now paying up to 10 times more to park.

There is a reason why Mayor Daley handily won every city council vote except two during his 22-year reign. Mayor Daley held a sword of Damocles over the aldermen’s heads. Either they voted with Daley or they faced the wrath of Daley, who could potentially send hundreds of his political hatchet men to defeat any renegade aldermen in the next election. Daley was the only game in town. If aldermen wanted to stay in the game, they voted the way Daley wanted.

The same follow-your-political-boss-not-your-conscience representation also occurred in the Illinois state legislature. As with the aldermen in the Chicago city council, Mayor Daley and House Speaker Madigan employed unlawfully hired patronage workers to keep state legislators in line. State representatives and state senators obeyed their political masters since it came with guaranteed job security that every machine official wants. Not only did the machine’s candidates for the state legislature win every time, they usually ran unopposed. To stay in office it was more important for members of the Illinois General Assembly to follow orders from Daley and Madigan than it was to heed the voters in their district. Since banishment from office was almost certain, not one machine-connected state legislator dared to challenge Daley or Madigan’s authority.

The Machine Changed Election Laws When the FBI Stopped the Patronage System

Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration used the illegal patronage system to annihilate virtually every anti-machine candidate from 1989 to 2004. In 1997 the Daley-Madigan alliance began to change the election laws heavily in the machine’s favor. The machine’s heyday from 1997 to 2004 saw both unlawful patronage and the election laws working in its favor. During this time the machine took over virtually every political office in Chicago, Cook County, and the State of Illinois. The machine also controlled elections of judges and the judicial branch of government.

The machine needed more onerous election laws to offset the loss of its patronage workers once the FBI stopped the rigging of government jobs in 2004. The year after the FBI intervened, the 2005 democratically controlled Illinois General Assembly significantly hiked signature requirements (See Timeline above). Signature requirements are the main reason machine candidates run unopposed and why it is nearly impossible for non-machine candidates to gain ballot access. State Representative David Winters was a prophet when he argued against the signature requirement hikes. He said, “If we pass this bill, it will probably end the competitive nature of elections in this state for the rest of our lifetime.”3

Nevertheless, the signature requirement increases passed the Illinois General Assembly. It has had a three- or four-fold effect. If candidates expect to survive challenges to their petition signatures, they must submit three or four times the number required to get their names on the ballot. Non-machine candidates are required to submit signatures from the voters in their district or ward to the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) for evaluation. Unfortunately for them, CBOE machine officials determine the validity of their signatures.

Election authorities outside of Chicago typically invalidate 15% to 20% of signatures submitted by candidates. The percentage that the CBOE invalidates is as high as 60% to 70%. For example, the first time Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996, his four opponents’ signatures were invalidated at a rate of 62%. CBOE hacks have become more brazen in rejecting non-machine candidates’ signatures in recent years. Nine Republican state senate and state representative candidates had their signatures invalidated at a rate of 72% in 2012. The names of Obama’s four state senate opponents in 1996 and the nine Republican state legislative candidates in 2012 did not appear on the ballot because they could not meet the signature requirements set by the Illinois state legislature.

What makes the CBOE’s denial of candidates’ ballot access more suspicious is the fact that CBOE Chairman Neal’s law firm has received over $100 million in no-bid government contracts from the very same machine politicians whose elections he conducted and certified. Furthermore, Neal’s lobbying clients have paid him over $14 million in fees for lobbying for politicians whose elections Neal oversaw. Neal has a financial incentive to keep machine politicians in office. Neal wants machine politicians to continue feeding him no-bid government contracts and providing him with carte blanche lobbying access.

Appointments Are Used to Bypass Elections and Voters 

The most common way the machine maintains its vice-like grip on political offices is to deny ballot access to non-machine candidates, thus rendering voters irrelevant. Appointments are the second most common strategy. Machine officials appoint fellow machine members to elected offices after the previous office holder dies or resigns. Now imprisoned former Governor Rod Blagojevich had no idea the FBI was recording him when he said, “I’ve got this thing [appointment for U.S. senator], and it is f**king golden.” Blagojevich’s statement is typical of how Chicago machine honchos treat appointments to fill unexpired terms. The problem of political appointments to elected offices in Illinois is epidemic.

Every time a machine official appoints a fellow member of the machine to fulfill an unexpired term, it renders voters in the district or ward irrelevant. Appointments do not allow voters to choose their own representatives. For every justified appointment there are countless more in which backroom deals determine the successor. Machine leaders expect that when elected office holders plan to leave office, they resign their position before their term expires. Resignation from office allows the machine to appoint another machine member to fulfill the unexpired term. Machine appointees gain considerable advantages over any challengers in the next election since they then run as an incumbent.

In Mayor Richard M. Daley’s sixth and final term, he appointed his nineteenth alderman to the 50-member Chicago city council. Having appointed 38% of the aldermen, it is no surprise that the council rubber-stamped all of Daley’s proposals. Today 16 of the 19 aldermen Daley appointed still serve in the city council.

The problem of appointments to the Chicago city council has not been remedied under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. On January 11, 2013, Alderman Sandi Jackson submitted her resignation effective January 15, 2013. The timing of Jackson’s resignation is highly suspicious. Since she did not attend committee or city council meetings in the several months leading up to her resignation, the question arises as to why did Sandi Jackson waited months for her to write her termination letter with a resignation date effective on January 15? Could it be that if Jackson resigned on January 11, 2013, the day she submitted her letter of resignation, Mayor Emanuel would not have had the legal authority to appoint her successor since January 15, 2013, was the first day the law permitted it?

The Illinois General Assembly originally gave the mayor of Chicago power to fill a vacancy for alderman in 1978. Later, the state legislature empowered the mayor to appoint a successor alderman if as long as 28 months were left of the unexpired term instead of the original two years. In view of Mayor Daley having appointed  38% of the city council, the state legislature should have reduced the time to one year instead of extending it.

The laws relevant to filling vacant Chicago political offices raise much greater concerns. The appointment law gives the Chicago city council the power to fill a vacancy for mayor up to 28 months before the next election. If a mayor leaves office or dies, taxpayers will pay heavily for all the deals the aldermen will make in choosing a mayoral successor. An appointed mayor can create numerous, abysmal city policies and recklessly spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars for 28 months without ever being elected by Chicago voters.

Both the alderman and mayor appointment laws are almost certainly unconstitutional. Under the current law, a mayor or alderman who is appointed to office can serve more than half of a four-year term without benefit of being elected. That undermines the structure of our democracy. I predict that these laws will not survive a legal test if challenged in court.

Conclusion: No End to Political Corruption in Sight

To prevent illegal patronage and election rigging from happening again in Chicago and Cook County, in 2005 Judge Wayne R. Andersen assigned federal court monitors to observe five Chicago area agencies, or governments. Eight years have passed since Judge Andersen appointed these court monitors to oversee the personnel decisions of the City of Chicago and Cook County’s government, forest preserves, sheriff’s office, and jails. Unless you’re aware of the ubiquitous nature of corruption in Chicago’s political culture and history for over 100 years, it’s hard to imagine why federal court monitors are still necessary to watch Chicago and Cook County bureaucracies after eight years. Yet even with the federal court observing local government personnel decisions, Chicago area politicians continue to violate the Shakman Decrees in their attempt to gain unfair advantages over non-machine candidates. Indeed, old political habits and dirty tricks die hard.

The Richard M. Daley administration’s illegal patronage hiring led to a $12 million class action settlement in 2007. Nearly 4,000 people applied for and received a portion of the $12 million settlement. City job applicants and city employees received their share of the settlement because city jobs, desirable work assignments, and promotions did not go to the ones who were most qualified or most deserving but to those who campaigned for Mayor Daley and House Speaker Madigan’s favored candidates in violation of the Shakman Decrees.

Four candidates who ran for public office and lost to machine candidates applied for Shakman settlements. I was the only one of the four candidates to receive compensation. I was fortunate enough to provide the federal court monitor with a mountain of evidence to support my claim, especially federal court testimony from former Water Department Deputy Commissioner Donald Tomczak whose admissions of guilt to the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office prompted the $12 million Shakman settlement.

The FBI, U.S. Attorney, and federal courts have done their best to address the rigging of jobs and elections in Chicago. The federal courts continue to monitor five local governments to make sure they don’t violate the Shakman Decrees. At the very least, the 2007 Shakman settlement partially compensated the Daley administration’s job-rigging victims.

However, there is still unfinished business. The unfair election laws that stem from the rigging of jobs and elections remain in place. What’s worse, House Speaker Michael Madigan and his band of Illinois legislators have more political power today. The machine possesses a super majority in both state houses.

Madigan and the state legislators he controls were elected with the help of illegal patronage workers. Once Madigan and the members of his faction had enough Illinois General Assembly votes, they tampered with election laws to give themselves and their fellow machine politicians insurmountable advantages over non-machine candidates. The corrupt Illinois political culture will continue as long as Illinois election laws guarantee the reelection of dishonest, inept, and self-serving machine politicians.

Illinois needs a substantial overhaul of its election laws to insure accountability, democracy, political competition, and fairness. Sadly, the number of machine candidates who ran unopposed in the November, 2012, election suggests that we won’t see any serious election reform in the near future.

In Loving Memory of Dan Blue

Dan Blue was a genuine, kind, and generous soul. He put helping others ahead of helping himself. Befitting of his nature, Dan was always quick to support a good person and a good cause. Like the sculptures he designed and built, Dan was truly an original. For more about the fascinating life of Dan, click here and here.


1. To verify my number of unopposed state senators, state representatives, and Cook County judges, click and view the 2012 CBOE Ballot. To determine the percentage of unopposed candidates, count the total number of candidates on the ballot and the total number of candidates who do not have an opponent. To determine the percent of candidates who ran unopposed, divide the number of candidates who don’t have an opponent by the total number of candidates. Please note that only candidates running for Cook County judge or Cook County subcircuit judge were counted in the tally.

2. To read Donald Tomczak’s federal court testimony, click and view Donald Tomczak’s Testimony. Tomczak’s admission of his unlawful political organization helping Rahm Emanuel’s congressional campaign is on page 2444. Tomczak’s testimony of the illegal campaigning for Al Gore is on page 2443.

3. Click and view the 2005 Illinois General Assembly Ballot Access Debate. State legislators gave no valid reason to increase state senator and state representative requirements by 67%. The excuse state legislators gave was that it was a long time since there was a hike in signature requirements. Furthermore, the state legislators connected the increases in ballot access to the population in a district instead of the percentage of voters in the last election as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

State Representative David Winters end of political competition comment is on the last page of the “2005 Illinois Assembly Ballot Access Debate” PDF file.

The 2005 Illinois General Assembly reduced the 25,000 signature requirement to run for mayor, city clerk, and city treasurer to 12,500 signatures. The debate did not reveal the 25,000 signature requirement in 2005 was most likely unconstitutional. The Illinois legislators once again mistakenly tie the signature requirement to Chicago’s population instead of a percentage of voters who voted in the last municipal election. I currently have a federal court case challenging Chicago’s ballot access law.