How the Chicago Board of Elections Favors the Machine and What Can Be Done about It

CBOE’s failure to collect statistics and correct defects that block ballot access

Currently the only significant statistic the CBOE publicizes is voter turnout. The voter turnout statistic is simple to calculate: the number of actual voters is divided by the number of eligible voters. For example, when Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011, voter turnout was 41%. Chicago had 1.4 million registered voters in 2011, but only 575,000 actually voted (575,000/1,400,000 = 41%).

The voter turnout statistic has been used to create changes in voter registration and voting. As a result of declining voter turnout, motor-voter, early voting, and voting absentee without a reason were implemented to encourage more people to vote. If the voter turnout statistic has been used to make voting changes to attract more voters, surely statistics can be used to improve candidates’ ballot access.

Based on recent elections, I estimate that more than 50% of the candidates who file petitions are denied ballot access by the CBOE. For example, twenty candidates filed to run for mayor of Chicago in 2011. Two candidates withdrew from the race, one candidate submitted frivolous nominating petitions, and six candidates appeared on the ballot. The CBOE’s ballot access denial percentage for the 2011 race for mayor was 55% or 11 out of 20 candidates who wanted to run for mayor but could not because of Chicago’s ballot access restrictions.

President Obama political career started successfully thanks to the CBOE denying all of his opponents the opportunity to run against him. The CBOE declared 4 of the 5 candidates or 80% of the candidates ineligible to compete against Barack Obama for state senator in his first election (see details below).  Of course, I’m unsure of the exact percentage of candidates the CBOE has denied ballot access because the CBOE doesn’t collect or publish any statistics other than voter turnout.

Eight proposed statistics to improve candidate ballot access

1. Percentage of candidates who filed and made it onto the ballot: The number of candidates who are on the ballot divided by the number of candidates who filed for office.

2. Percentage of candidates who were challenged: The number of candidates who were challenged divided by the number of candidates who filed.

3. Percentage of candidates who are placed on the ballot after overcoming challenges to their nominating petitions: The number of candidates who are on the ballot after challenges to their nominating petitions divided by the total number of candidates challenged.

4. Percentage of candidates challenged on the basis of signature validity: The number of candidates who had their nominating signatures challenged divided by the total number of candidates.

5. Percentage of invalidated signatures: The number of signatures invalidated divided by the total number of signatures examined.

6. Percentage of candidates denied ballot access for clerical errors: The number of candidates whose nominating petitions had clerical errors divided by the total number of candidates.

7. Percentage of candidates who are running unopposed: Number of candidates without opposition divided by the total number of candidates.

8. The number of candidates on the ballot for the most recent election compared to the number of candidates from the two previous elections: A list of the current number of candidates compared to the number of candidates who ran in the two previous elections.

The CBOE doesn’t collect and publish statistics such as the ones above for five reasons:

1. The CBOE doesn’t want the public to know the high percentage of candidates who were challenged and denied ballot access.

2. The CBOE doesn’t want the public to have readily available statistics depicting the reasons why the CBOE denied candidates ballot access.

3. The CBOE doesn’t want to reveal statistics that show ballot access malfeasance.

4. The CBOE doesn’t want to identify candidate ballot access problems and then have to take steps to eliminate them.

5. By not keeping statistics to reevaluate ballot access, the CBOE can continue to eliminate candidates who dare challenge the machine’s candidates.

Onerous signature requirements block access to ballot

Chicago requires a ridiculously high number of signatures to run for mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, and alderman. Candidates for a major Chicago office must submit 12,500 valid signatures. However, candidates who know the CBOE’s history of candidates denying ballot access collect three times that many, or 37,500 signatures, if they want to avoid having their signatures’ authenticity challenged.

The outrageousness of Chicago’s 12.500 signature requirement is obvious when contrasted with the signature requirements of other major cities. Though New York’s population is nearly three times Chicago’s, New York candidates for mayor are only required to submit 3,750 signatures. Los Angeles which has one million more people than Chicago has a signature requirement of 500 with a $300.00 filing fee or 1,000 signatures for candidates who opt not to pay the $300.00 filing fee. Houston, which is a city with a population closest to Chicago, doesn’t require its candidates for mayor to submit any signatures. In Houston candidates pay a filing fee in lieu of submitting signatures. A candidate for governor of California is required to submit 10,000 signatures to represent 37.7 million people, while candidates for Chicago mayor need 12,500 signatures to represent 2.9 million. The table below summarizes ballot access requirements to run for mayor of the 9 largest U.S. cities.

Signature Requirements to Access Ballot for Mayor

City

Population

Number of Signatures

New York

8,363,710

3,750 Valid Signatures

Los Angeles

3,833,995

500 Valid Signatures with $300.00 Filing Fee, or

Los Angeles

3,833,995

1,000 Valid Signatures and No Filing Fee

Chicago

2,853,114

12,500 Valid Signatures

Houston

2,242,193

0 Valid Signatures; Candidates Pay a Filing Fee

Phoenix

1,567,924

1,500 Valid Signatures

Philadelphia

1,447,395

1,000 Valid Signatures for Partisan Candidates

San Antonio

1,351,305

361 Valid Signatures

Dallas

1,279,910

473 Valid Signatures

San Diego

1,279,329

200 Valid Signatures If Candidate Pays Filing Fee, or

San Diego

1,279,329

2,200 Valid Signatures if Candidates Pays No Filing Fee

San Jose

948,279

50 Minimum Valid Signatures

60 Maximum Valid Signatures

The signature requirement to run for alderman is nearly as outrageous as the requirement to run for mayor. Some Chicago candidates must submit more signatures to appear on the ballot for alderman, who represents 60,000 people, than a candidate for Los Angeles mayor, who represents 3.8 million. In 2010 the signature requirement for aldermanic candidates increased to 2% of the total votes cast in the previous election. Chicago’s increase in the number of signatures required for ballot access bucks the downward signature requirement trend. Many cities have a .05% or less signature requirement to run for alderman, which is one-fourth or less than Chicago’s 2% signature requirement.

The reason for the high signature requirement to run for Chicago elected offices is to limit the machine’s political competition. Chicago’s 12,500 signature requirement for a major city office is meant to deter candidates from running against the machine’s candidates. To collect the 12,500 valid signatures to run for a major city office requires either $30,000 to $40,000 or a thousand or more volunteers willing to circulate petitions. The high signature requirement favors machine candidates because the machine has its network of campaign contributors and patronage workers already in place.

It’s time to allow candidates to pay filing fees in lieu of submitting signatures and/or reduce the number of signatures needed to .05% or less of the number of voters who voted in the last election.

CBOE’s onerous process to validate-invalidate signatures

Candidates submitting signatures beyond the legal requirement to the CBOE doesn’t guarantee the candidates’ appearance on the ballot. After non-machine candidates submit their nominating petitions to the CBOE, they are intensely scrutinized by the CBOE’s onerous signature validation process. The CBOE typically rejects 50% or more of candidates’ nominating signatures if the candidates’ signatures are challenged. The CBOE employees affiliated with the machine know exactly which candidates are linked to the machine and which candidates are not. These employees decide whether non-machine candidates’ signatures are valid or invalid. Hence, non-machine candidates try to make sure they have signatures well beyond the legal requirement.

Here are some examples of the CBOE’s onerous signature validation process:

Mayoral candidate Wilfredo DeJesus submitted 22,900 signatures. The CBOE invalidated more than 10,000 of DeJesus’s signatures to drop him below the 12,500 valid signature requirement after Dejesus was challenged. DeJesus withdrew his candidacy for mayor rather than continue to fight the CBOE’s decision. The machine was backing Dejesus’ opponent Rahm Emanuel.

Elida Cruz submitted 23,126 signatures to run for city treasurer in 2011. The CBOE invalidated more than half of Cruz’s signatures to drop her below the 12,500 valid signature requirement after Cruz was challenged. The machine was backing Cruz’s opponent Stephanie D. Neely.

The most famous candidate to benefit from the CBOE’s onerous and suspicious signature validation-invalidation process is President Barack Obama. In 1996 the CBOE denied ballot access to Obama’s four state senate opponents. The CBOE rejected 1,211 signatures, or 64%, of the 1,899 signatures that Obama opponent Gha-is F. Askia submitted to the Chicago Board of Elections. The CBOE also ruled Obama opponent Marc Ewell submitted 615, or 49%, invalid signatures out of the 1,286 signatures that he turned in. The CBOE would not let Ulmer D. Lynch, Jr., run against Obama because they invalidated enough of Lynch Jr.’s signatures to make it impossible for Lynch Jr. to reach the legal threshold of 757 valid signatures on his remaining unexamined petition sheets. Incumbent State Senator Alice J. Palmer withdrew her nominating petitions to run against Obama after the CBOE ruled that 1,000, or 63%, of Palmer’s 1,580 signatures were invalid. Because the CBOE invalidated enough signatures gathered by  Obama’s four democratic state senate primary rivals, Obama ran unopposed in his first election.

More than 1,000,000 signatures were recently submitted to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The Journal Sentinel estimated that about 15% of the signatures could not be verified. The Sentinel’s review was more demanding than Wisconsin’s state Government Accountability Board’s signature verification process.

Q: Why does the Wisconsin election authority reject 15% or less of the signatures submitted to it while the CBOE rejects 50% or more of the signatures candidates turn in?

A:  The CBOE rejects a much higher percentage of non-machine candidates’ signatures because the CBOE doesn’t want candidates to run against candidates affiliated with the Chicago machine.

CBOE’s failure to train candidates

Many clerks and election boards throughout the U.S. teach candidates how to submit their nominating petitions prior to their submission deadline. In some jurisdictions candidates are not allowed to run for office unless they take a pre-candidate training seminar. The purpose of pre-election seminars is to educate candidates about the election laws and the proper procedure for accessing the ballot. Candidate training seminars prevent ballot access problems before they happen.

Unlike other election boards, the CBOE deliberately fails to offer any pre-candidate training. The CBOE doesn’t want to provide pre-election training to non-machine candidates who will run against machine candidates. The machine wants their candidates to run unopposed or with the least number of candidates challenging them as possible. By not offering them training, the chances of candidates submitting their nominating petitions with fatal errors increases. In five weeks or less after candidates file to run for public office, the CBOE informs them that they are not on the ballot because of errors they made on their nominating petitions. If the CBOE were to provide pre-candidate training, the number of candidates the CBOE denies ballot access would drop to almost nil.

The only training the CBOE offers is, “How to Navigate the Petition Objection Process.” The problem with the CBOE’s objection process training is that it’s too late. The CBOE’s objection process training is closing the barn door after the horses have left. When candidates enter the nominating process objection phase, it is highly unlikely that they will survive the objections to their candidacy. Illinois’ strict election laws and enforcement make it nearly impossible for candidates to overcome challenges to their nomination papers. The CBOE offers its objection process training merely for the sake of appearances. The CBOE wants to make it look like it is concerned about candidates’ ballot access. If the CBOE commissioners were truly concerned about candidates’ ballot access, the CBOE would have pre-candidate training as is offered or required by many other election boards throughout the U.S.

Candidates denied ballot access because of clerical errors

Each election, voters choose from a list of candidates on the ballot, but what most voters don’t know is that the CBOE did not let numerous candidates’ names appear on the ballot because they made clerical errors when they submitted their petitions to the CBOE. If candidates don’t bind their nominating petitions, fail to submit a Statement of Economic Interests, don’t number their petition sheets, forget to sign their nominating petitions, or make some other clerical error, they are denied a chance to run for elected office. For example, candidate Tommy Hanson spent $20,000 and hundred of hours collecting more than the required 12,500 signatures to run for mayor in 2011. The CBOE denied Hanson ballot access because he forgot to submit his Statement of Economic Interests along with his 12,500-plus signatures.

Many election boards outside of Illinois have a more just and democratic system for candidate ballot access. As with Chicago, candidates in other states must submit their nominating petitions to their respective election boards by a specific date. The election boards review each candidate’s nomination papers for clerical errors. If the election boards find clerical errors, they notify the candidates of their mistakes and give them 2 to 10 work days to correct the deficiencies in their nominating papers. Candidates are not allowed more time to collect signatures beyond the due date. But if candidates have enough valid signatures by the due date and correct their clerical errors on time, their names appear on the ballot.

Chicago has the most severe penalty for submitting nominating petitions with one or more clerical errors. Only one major clerical error will prevent candidates from running for public office. Most government agencies and corporations let people correct clerical errors. Think about filling out online forms. If you omit information or make a mistake, you can’t leave the web page until you correct your error. It’s common for people to make honest mistakes or omissions when submitting paperwork.

The machine favors the denial of ballot access over correction of clerical errors because non-machine candidates are virtually the only ones denied ballot access over clerical errors. The machine uses clerical errors as a means to weed out the machine’s political competition.

Tommy Hanson was the lone Republican candidate who filed to run against Rahm Emanuel for mayor in 2011. The penalty of denying mayoral candidate Tommy Hanson ballot access due to his clerical mistake was overkill. Hanson should have been given a reasonable amount of time, say 48 hours, to submit his Statement of Economic Interests and allowed to run for mayor.

For democracy’s sake, election law should be changed to give Illinois election boards, including the Chicago Board of Elections, the authority to notify candidates of clerical errors and give them a reasonable amount of time to correct their clerical mistakes.

Conclusion: CBOE is corrupt by design and a tool of the Chicago machine

CBOE corruption starts at the top with Chairman Langdon Neal’s $100 million in patronage contracts and works its way down the organization. The CBOE is loaded with employees affiliated with the Chicago machine. Impartial Chicago elections cannot happen with the machine’s patronage workers conducting Chicago elections.

The CBOE fails to educate candidates on how to prepare nominating petitions before they file, and the CBOE refuses to correct ballot access defects based on statistics in order to enable machine candidates to run unopposed or with considerably less opposition. Chicago’s outrageous signature requirements and onerous validation of candidates’ nominating signatures create a black hole into which non-machine candidates fall and never get out. If the CBOE wrote a truthful mission statement it would be, “The purpose of the CBOE is to win elections for the Chicago political machine.”

CBOE Chairman Langdon Neal will argue that he is following Illinois election law when he performs his CBOE duties. However, Neal and the Illinois legislators who created Chicago’s election law are members of the same political machine. It was members of the Chicago political machine who selected Neal to serve as an election commissioner and protect its interests. The state legislators affiliated with the Chicago machine wrote Illinois election law for the purpose of wiping out the machine’s competition. Neal’s job for the machine is to enforce the election law that his fellow machine legislators wrote.

Neal and the machine’s legislators are so good at using election law to limit political opposition that the machine’s competition is nearly extinct. Furthermore, when Illinois legislators affiliated with the machine run for office, Neal is there to shield them from start to finish. Neal’s personal earnings of an estimated $30 to $40 million while serving as CBOE chairman is his reward for using the CBOE to aid the machine.

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