Illinois election laws
A sample ballot in the November 2018 general election in New York. Bills in both legislative houses in Illinois have been introduced to level the playing field for independent and new party candidates. (Courtesy photo)

I have been quite vocal about reform election law reform for quite some time on social media. Actually, it’s been more prevalent since the beginning of the 2018 election cycle:

Attempts to reform the state’s election code of laws have been made since 2013 by state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) in the form of Senate Bill 1624, which called for the elimination of the “ballot access multiplier”, which requires independent and new party candidates to collect, depending on political race, anywhere between three and forty times the threshold granted to the candidates wishing to run in the Democratic and Republican primaries, which is 0.5% of the highest vote receiver in county and Congressional races, 500 to 1,500 for Illinois House races, 1,500 to 3,000 for Illinois Senate races and 5,000 to 15,000 for Federal (non-Congressional) races.

This means that a Libertarian, Green or Constitution party — or independent — candidates would have to collect, depending on voter turnout in those respective races, anywhere from three times to forty times the petition signatures turned in by candidates from both major parties.

As a former candidate for state representative in District 95 for the 2016 election cycle, I would have had to submit upwards of 3,000 petition signatures to earn ballot access, just shy of four times what state Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) and eventual Democratic opponent Mike Mathis were allowed to turn in for their respective primaries. (Note: I was forced to file as a write-in candidate due to falling short by a wide margin.)

As a former candidate for county clerk in Montgomery County in the 2018 election cycle, I would have had to submit 29 times the number of petition signatures that Republican incumbent Sandy Leitheiser filed in her uncontested re-election bid. (Note: Again, I was forced to file as a write-in candidate because I was short in signatures.)

In the previous General Assembly, state Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) and Rep. Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee) introduced their own respective reforms in the forms of Senate Bill 63 and House Bill 762, utilizing some of the same language utilized in Manar’s previous bill and language from election law reforms in neighboring states. While McCarter’s bill mostly covered a lot of the territory Manar was hoping to accomplish in the 98th General Assembly, Skillicorn introduced something in his bill that was equally as excellent: lowering the major party threshold of 5 percent to the Midwestern regional standard of 2 percent. Unfortunately, much like Manar’s attempt, both McCarter’s and Skillicorn’s bills died at the end of the session, never to leave the Rules Committee or any committee that handled assignments. (Perhaps it threatens the four-decade longevity of House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.)

Sen. Manar has once again made a renewed effort to reform the Illinois Election Code via Senate Bill 141. The only difference from his previous effort is that he has support from the other side of the aisle via Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, a Republican who has a track record of not being afraid of straying away from the party line when it comes to election and liberty-oriented issues, such as full legalization of marijuana. Barickman’s decision to support the bill can be attributed to heavy activism from McLean County Libertarian Party chairman Steve Suess.

A companion bill in the House, House Bill 3535, introduced by freshman legislator Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville), calls for only lowering the ballot access threshold for new parties and independents to equal that of the Democratic and Republican parties. A rumored amendment to lower the major party threshold has been planned, but not announced.

I had intention to address this bill before three legislators — Rep. Darren Bailey (R-Louisville), Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Effingham) and Rep. Chris Miller (R-Oakland) — during a joint town hall forum being held this past weekend in Effingham, but was unable to attend due to a work emergency, but made a public post the following morning asking for an opinion on the House bill.

As you can see, Miller was the only one of the three who replied to the post, initially wanting my thoughts on the bill. I was beyond honest in my response and he agrees. Based on my presumption, Miller may be in support of the bill. No response from Bailey or Wilhour as of this commentary.

While the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPIL) has been actively petitioning to legislators to garner support for the bill, no sign of activism from the only other active alternative political parties — the Illinois Green Party and the Constitution Party of Illinois — has been seen regarding the bill. The LPIL board of directors voted to approve a resolution to support both bills during a special meeting on March 5 and is featured below:

Libertarian Party of Illinois Resolution Supporting Illinois General Assembly Ballot Access Bills SB141 and HB3535

If you want fair and equal elections and want to take that first step to equalize the playing field regarding ballot access, now would be a perfect time. And the more support, the better.

Jake Leonard is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed and GM/program director of the Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network. Leonard is also general manager of Heartland Internet Media Networks and an active contributor to four newspapers for Pana News Group.