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High court: Petition circulators confined to gathering signatures for one party

High court: Petition circulators confined to gathering signatures for one party

Cannot serve one party in primary then an independent in general election

By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
smansur@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois Supreme Court decision Wednesday clarified that the state election code prohibits a person from collecting signatures for both a party candidate in a consolidated primary and an independent candidate in the consolidated general election that follows.

The court interpreted the section of the election code that is referred to as the prohibition on “dual circulators.”

This section states that “no person shall circulate or certify petitions for candidates of more than one political party, or for an independent candidate or candidates in addition to one political party, to be voted upon at the next primary or general election, or for such candidates and parties with respect to the same political subdivision at the next consolidated election.”

The question about “dual circulators” was brought before the state’s highest court by Adonis Elam Sr., an independent candidate for village board trustee in the village of Riverdale in south suburban Cook County.

Elam appealed to the Supreme Court after the village of Riverdale’s electoral board and the Cook County Circuit Court found that Elam’s name should be removed from the ballot because multiple signatures on his nominating petition were invalid.

The signatures and petitions were invalidated based on the finding that Elam violated the election code because three people who circulated his petitions for the consolidated general election had previously circulated petitions for a Democratic candidate in the consolidated primary.

Both Elam and the Democratic candidate were to appear on the ballot for the municipal consolidated general election.

This section that prohibits “dual circulators” applied to Elam, the electoral board and circuit court decided, rendering his petitions invalid because he lacked the minimum number of signatures after the signatures collected by the three people were removed.

On April 1, the Supreme Court agreed with the electoral board and circuit court, keeping Elam’s name off the ballot for the April 6 consolidated election.

The Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion issued Wednesday explained the reasoning for its April 1 decision.

The court’s unanimous opinion addresses a split in two separate appellate courts that reached different interpretations on the issue of “dual circulators.”

In a 2013 court case, the Fourth District Appellate Court ruled that the section of the election code that addresses “dual circulators” does not prohibit a person from circulating a petition for a political party in a consolidated primary election and then circulating a petition for an independent candidate in a consolidated general election.

In another 2013 case, the First District Appellate Court interpreted this section of the election code to prohibit a situation where a person circulated petitions for a party candidate in the consolidated primary and an independent in the consolidated general.

The Supreme Court justices ruled that applying the Fourth District’s interpretation would essentially nullify the section’s prohibition on circulating petitions for both an established party candidate and an independent candidate because independents cannot run in the primary.

The justices also found that the Fourth District’s decision “would create an unfair advantage for established political parties and candidates running with established political parties whereby a political party, via its circulator, either tries to nominate an independent candidate whom it believes will siphon votes from a candidate of an opposing political party or tries to raid the other party’s primary by nominating a partisan opponent who will be easier to defeat in the general election.”

They agreed with the First District’s interpretation, and overruled the decision from the Fourth District.

The intent of the General Assembly’s prohibition on “dual circulators” is clear in situations where a circulator collects signatures for both a party candidate in the primary and independent candidate in the general, where both candidates will face off in the general election, the justices wrote in the 11-page opinion.

The “dual circulators” prohibition of the election code “clearly prohibits situations such as this, as it would undoubtably cause voter confusion,” the opinion states.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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