Signature Requirement for Alderman is Most Likely Unconstitutional

Here We Go Again

When I learned that the Illinois General Assembly was planning to double the signature requirement for alderman in 2010, I tipped off Chicago Reader reporter Ben Joravsky. Joravsky wrote an article entitled, “The Untouchables: The Incumbent Alderman Protection Act.” After Joravsky’s persuasive reporting, state legislators quickly backed off their proposed ballot access increase. The 2010 election law would have doubled the number of signatures to access the ballot. Depending on the ward, the 2013 election law hiked the signature requirement for aldermanic candidates up to five-fold because of a poorly timed and ill-conceived mathematical formula.

Controlling access to the ballot is how the Chicago machine keeps its power in spite of high taxes and fees, decreasing services, and exorbitant public debt. Chicago machine candidates rely on restrictive ballot access laws to eliminate their competition. When notorious House Speaker Michael Madigan increased the number of required signatures to 473 to run for alderman, he handed the corrupt Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) a powerful tool to deny non-machine candidates ballot access. Madigan passes state laws to protect city politicians, and city politicians give Madigan whatever he wants. Madigan and his city patronage workers were implicated in Chicago’s job and election rigging scheme in two federal court trials. Despite the arrest and convictions of sixty public employees, Madigan is still the commander of his political army that mobilizes and destroys his machine’s political opposition.

Here we go again. In 2003 Patricia McAllister, Paul Jakes Jr., and Joseph McAfee were on the ballot for mayor although they did not meet the state mandated 25,000 signature requirement. Attorney Frank Avila filed a lawsuit that claimed the 25,000 signature requirement for mayor was onerous and restrictive. The Chicago Board of Elections said the state legislature erred in requiring 25,000 signatures for mayoral ballot access. The CBOE allowed all three candidates the honor of having incumbent Mayor Richard M. Daley crush them at the polls. The same thing could happen again this year because Illinois state legislators made foolish errors when they increased the signature requirement to run for alderman.

In 2003 the 25,000 signature requirement to run for mayor was 5.4% of the voters who voted in the last election. The U.S. Supreme Court set the signature requirement limit at 5% of the voters who voted for the office in the previous election. Hence, the signature requirement for mayor in 2003 was .4% over the limit of 5% (5.4% signature requirement for mayoral ballot access – 5% constitutional threshold = .4%). The 2013 signature requirement to run for alderman is most likely unconstitutional because the signature requirement will exceed 5% in about 15 Chicago wards (see table below). What’s worse, the signature requirement law for alderman almost entirely discriminates against minority candidates and voters.

Where the Illinois General Assembly Erred

The 2015 signature requirement law states that candidates for alderman must submit 4% of the total number of 2011 votes for mayor of Chicago divided by 50. The divisor is 50 because 50 is total number of Chicago wards. The number of valid signatures to run for alderman in 2015 is currently set at 473 signatures (590,391 votes for mayor in 2011 x .04 /50 =472.31).

Let me put the outrageousness of the 473 signature requirement law in perspective. Republican candidates used to be able to run for mayor with 278 signatures before the Chicago Democratic machine hiked the signature requirement to 25,000. Now candidates for alderman need 473 signatures to represent a ward of 60,000 people when candidates for mayor needed only 278 signatures to represent the entire city of 3,000,000 residents.

The city council redistricted the boundaries of all 50 wards in 2012. Because redistricting occurred after the 2011 election, I assume the Illinois General Assembly foolishly chose 4% of total votes for mayor. The first flaw in the new law is the signature requirement is based on votes for mayor instead of votes for alderman. In 2011 there was 590,391 votes for mayor. The number of votes for all 50 aldermen in 2011 is 565,172 (see table below). Thus, 25,219 more people voted for mayor than they did for alderman. The use of the total votes for mayor instead of total votes for aldermen artificially raises the signature requirement beyond the number of voters who voted for aldermen in 2011. The failure to link the signature requirement to aldermanic voters in the last aldermanic election as the Supreme Court requires will lead to a number of wards having an unconstitutional signature requirement.

The second flaw in the aldermanic ballot access is that the 473 signature requirement doesn’t link the signature requirement directly to the specific wards and prior election as the Supreme Court requires. The U.S. Supreme Court limits signature requirements to 5% of the number of voters who voted in the district or ward in the previous election. Since Chicago redistricted all 50 wards, there is no way to know how many voters voted in each ward during the last election.

In 2011 state law correctly tied the signature requirement for alderman to the number of voters who voted for alderman in the ward in the preceding election. The 2011 signature requirement was 2% of the number of voters who voted for alderman in the ward in 2007. The state made a very poor choice to increase the signature requirement for alderman since Chicago’s 2015 election occurs after the redistricting of the wards and there is no way to know the exact number of each wards voters from the previous election.

The Illinois General Assembly’s failure to take into account the large range of voter turnout in Chicago’s 50 wards is the third major flaw in the 2015 aldermanic signature requirement. The vast range of voters in wards across the city is the reason why the 473 signature requirement will most likely be unconstitutional in some wards but not in others. I’ll use the 22nd and 19th wards as an example of voter disparity between wards. In the 22nd Ward, 4,353 voters cast a ballot for alderman in 2011 compared to 23,727 voters in the 19th Ward. The 19th ward had 19,374 more votes for alderman in 2011 than the 22nd ward. Candidates from both the 22nd and 19th wards must submit 473 signatures, but the 19th ward had more than five times the number of voters for alderman in 2011 than the 22nd ward. The 473 signature requirement for the 4,353 votes for 22nd Ward alderman puts the signature requirement at 10.9% (473/4,353=10.9%). A 10.9% signature requirement for 22nd Ward alderman is more than double the 5% signature limit set by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 19th Ward signature requirement for 2015 is 2% (473/23,727=2%).

Because of the new ward boundaries, I won’t know for sure how many wards exceed a 5% signature requirement. If the 2011 election is any indication, it is safe to say the Chicago machine is violating the civil rights of 2015 candidates and voters for alderman in 15 wards.

Below is a table with the number of votes for alderman in 2011. The signature requirement percentage in Column 3 was calculated by using the 473 that is required to run for alderman in 2015. For example, the first ward signature requirement is 4.8% of the 2011 voters (473 required signatures/9847 number of 2011 voters=4.8%). The wards listed in red are the ones that exceed 5% of the total votes from the last election.

Wards Most Likely to Exceed the 5% Signature Requirement

Ward
2011 Voters
Signature Requirement in Percent of 2011 Voters
1
9,847
4.8%
2
14,611
3.3%
3
8,928
5.3%
4
13,273
3.6%
5
11,743
4%
6
15,045
3.1%
7
12,345
3.8%
8
15,202
3.1%
9
11,010
4.3%
10
10,701
4.4%
11
11,026
4.3%
12
4,872
9.7%
13
11,601
4%
14
5,907
8%
15
7,059
6.7%
16
6,116
7.7%
17
9,900
4.8%
18
15,442
3.1%
19
23,727
2%
20
7,467
6.3%
21
15,376
3.1%
22
4,353
10.9%
23
16,448
2.9%
24
9,255
5.1%
25
8,823
5.5%
26
7,438
6.4%
27
9,429
5%
28
6,780
7%
29
10,603
4.5%
30
6,251
7.6%
31
5,508
8.6%
32
13,437
3.5%
33
6,667
7.1%
34
14,183
3.3%
35
8,786
5.4%
36
14,052
3.7%
37
8,778
5.4%
38
12,256
3.9%
39
10,189
4.6%
40
8,712
5.4%
41
20,109
2.4%
42
15,893
3%
43
14,267
3.3%
44
11,129
4.3%
45
15,879
3%
46
13,906
3.4%
47
16,877
2.9%
48
12,862
3.7%
49
9,617
4.9%
50
11,487
4.1%
Total Votes

565,172

Chicago’s 473 Signature Requirement for Alderman Mainly Discriminates Against Minorities

More than 25 of Chicago’s 50 wards are considered minority because of Chicago’s diverse population. Non-Hispanic white’s comprise about 32% of Chicago’s population, African Americans, 33%; and Hispanics, 29%. However, Chicago’s 473 signature requirement almost exclusively discriminates against minority candidates. The 473 signature requirement will require more Afro American and Hispanic candidates for alderman to submit signatures over 5% of the voters who participated in the last election. Nearly all of the 18 Chicago wards listed in red in the above table are considered minority wards.

Since 1973, 36 former Chicago alderman have been convicted of corruption. Between 1973 and the present about 100 different people served as alderman. The conviction rate for Chicago alderman is approximately 33%. Not one of the 36 convicted aldermen was voted out of office. The Illinois General Assembly continues to deny voters their right to hold incumbent aldermen accountable despite the fact that one-third of the Chicago City Council members were convicted of corruption in a 40 year span. State legislators choose to restrict ballot access and allow their political allies to face little or no competition instead.

Illinois laws to access the ballot provide the means in which the Chicago machine can eliminate its competition before voters cast their ballots. In Chicago more offices are won during the challenge period to candidates’ petitions than at the polls. For example, 90% of the machine’s candidates for state senate or 18 out of 20 state senate candidates and 78% of its candidates for state representative or 28 out of 36 state rep candidates ran unopposed. As with state senator and state representative elections, Madigan and his flunkies’ goal is to eliminate the machine’s political completion before anyone votes on election day. The machine can’t lose an election for alderman if its candidate is the only one on the ballot.

In 2011 there were approximately 350 challenges to the nominating petitions for candidates for alderman. State law allows candidates to be denied ballot access for clerical errors, such as failure to bind petitions, failure to number petitions, or failure to submit a statement of candidacy. Other cities and states allow candidates to correct clerical errors in their nominating petitions. The Chicago machine and/0r the Chicago Board of Elections keeps every means possible to eliminate non-machine candidates, including minor clerical errors that serve no other purpose except limiting competition for the machine’s candidates.

The Illinois General Assembly further restricted ballot access for the 2015 Chicago municipal election when it raised aldermanic signature requirement up to five-fold. The General Assembly took no steps to promote ballot access. The General Assembly’s one-sided action that limits accountability, democracy and competitive elections is proof that the Madigan led state legislature is more concerned with denying candidates ballot access than it is in protecting the civil rights of candidates and voters.

What Challenged Candidates for Alderman May Try

If you are a non-machine candidate for alderman, most likely someone will file an objection and claim you don’t have 473 valid signatures. When I say someone will object to your signatures, I speak from experience. In 2003 my signatures for alderman were challenged although I submitted fives times the number of required signatures. My case never went to a hearing officer because I discovered my objector made a mathematical error that left me with enough valid signatures by my objector’s own count. I also won $75,000 for that election as part of Shakman federal court settlement.

The people you are up against have a lot of experience and skill at denying candidates ballot access. I strongly encourage you to get a lawyer if you can afford one. In your CBOE response to your objector’s challenge of your signatures, you may claim that the 473 signature requirement to get on the ballot for alderman is onerous, restrictive, and unconstitutional. Below are my four reasons to challenge the constitutionality of the 473 signature requirement. You may use them if you want though I strongly encourage you to get lawyer.

1. The law that set the signature requirement for alderman at 473 signatures is ill-conceived and poorly timed. The 473 signature requirement exceeds 5% of the voters who voted for alderman in the last election in about 15 wards, but not all 50. You may submit the above table to show your claim is accurate and reasonable.

2. The Illinois General Assembly erred in using 2011 votes for mayor instead of aldermanic voters from each individual ward. Total votes for mayor is not an accurate reflection of the number of voters who voted for alderman in each ward. Using votes for mayor to determine the signature requirement for alderman inflated the aldermanic signature requirement to 473 signatures. There is a great disparity in the range of 2011 voters for mayor. For example, in 2011 there were 23,898 votes for mayor in the 19th Ward, but only 4,751 in the 22nd Ward, yet candidates from both wards have the same 473 signature requirement for alderman. You can create and submit your own table for mayoral votes by ward to show there is a huge disparity in the range of voters for mayor just like there is for alderman.

3. When the citywide vote is divided by 50 to average out the signature requirement for all 50 Chicago wards, approximately 15 wards exceed 5% of the voters because of the statistically significant range in the number of voters who vote in each ward. Again, you may use the table from above to support your claim that the range of voters who vote in each ward can vary by 500% or more, yet all candidates must submit 473 signatures to get on the ballot.

4. Claim that in 2011 Illinois lawmakers used a proper formula to set the signature requirement, namely 2% of the voters who voted for alderman in 2007. You can agree with the other side who will argue that it couldn’t use the 2011 formula again because of redistricting. However, your argument is that the hike to 473 signatures is poorly timed, ill-conceived, onerous and restrictive.

I don’t know if a Chicago Board of Election hearing officer will rule on your claim that the 473 signature requirement for alderman violates the constitutional guarantee for ballot access, but it is worth a try. You also have the option to appeal the Chicago Board of Elections ruling in circuit and federal court. Seek out and speak to other candidates whose signatures were challenged. You and other candidates can pool your resources and jointly file a federal court lawsuit as I did.

Good luck and God’s speed to all those who are fighting Chicago corruption.

Election Lawyer Recommendation

I highly recommend attorney Andy Finko. Andy is a very intelligent, experienced, and passionate election lawyer. His phone number and email address are (773) 480-0616 and FinkoLaw@fastmail.FM.

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