Nominating Petition Traps Page

Richard Means

Law Practice

Election Law
Public Interest Litigation

Best Win-Loss Record Whether Fighting for Incumbents or Insurgents.
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806 Fair Oaks Avenue
Oak Park, Illinois 60302-1547
Telephone: (708) 386-1122
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Nominating Petition Traps



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Nominating Petition Traps

by Richard K. Means

"I was really impressed with the win ration of Richard K. Means...he really only focuses on election law and is generally considered to be among the best." ~ Jimm Dispensa, co-founder of Aldertrack

Candidates for state and local office in Illinois are required to possess varying specific qualifications and are required to file nomination papers including petitions signed by registered voters in the district served by the office. The word "trap" in the title of this article accurately portrays the overly strict qualifications required and the hypertechnical standards against which candidates' filings are judged. The election laws are made by incumbents who sometimes seem to be motivated by only one principle: to maintain their incumbency. Thus, most incumbents regularly consult their election lawyer both to guide their own actions and also to trip up their opponents. Only the cynical would suggest that incumbents attempt to periodically change the election law simply in order to confound the unwary.

Different offices have different required qualifications. The forms needed to be filed should be custom- made to suit each individual situation. Some of the forms which are standard require specific answers which are not clearly evident from the form's questions. The number of supporting signatures required may be a crushing burden since, in some situations, an absolute minimum of 25,000 absolutely perfect signatures is required.

The penalty for failing to meet Illinois' exacting standards is very simple: denial of ballot access. Just about the worst thing that can happen to a political candidate is to be removed from the ballot. The next worst thing is for the candidate to spend all or most of his campaign resources and time defending, and even finally winning, a reasonable sounding objection to his ballot access. Campaign workers don't volunteer, contributors don't give money, and media don't disseminate sympathetic publicity about candidates whose right to be on the ballot is credibly questioned. There have been many candidates who have exhausted their entire campaign resources and energy fighting epic court battles for ballot access. Sometimes candidates win challenges against them; but even when they do, they often win the right to be on the ballot so close to the election day that their campaign never gets off the ground. Rarely does a candidate win at the ballot box after fending off a credible objection.

The recitation above will impact differently on potential candidates. Some will resolve that:

  1. The political system is so illogical and corrupt that no respectable person should have anything to do with it; or
  2. The political system is so illogical and corrupt that all respectable persons should sacrifice their time and efforts to clean it up; or
  3. The political system is so illogical and corrupt that this respectable person will run for office with expert legal advice from the very beginning of (and throughout) his or her campaign in order to be elected to change the system.

Which one are you?

[Richard K. Means is a Chicago lawyer who concentrates his practice on election matters. He is a twice former Chairman of the Chicago Bar Association Election Law Committee, has served as the State Chair of the Independent Voters of Illinois -Independent Precinct Organization, and is a founder and advisor to Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts). He is currently the Chicago Area Chapter Chair of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. Means formerly was the Chief of the Election Law Division of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, has served as a contract attorney and on an advisory committee for the Illinois State Board of Elections. He regularly writes articles and lectures on election law for other lawyers and is regularly appointed by the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County to serve to fill vacancies on local election boards.]