Real talk for the Prairie State: it's hard to look down a Republican or Democrat primary ballot in Illinois and not find at least one race where the best option is "Oh God, anyone but them," and we all know it.
In a state where the only official record of a voter's partisan allegiance is their choice of primary ballot, that leaves a lot of voters nominally affiliated with parties within which they'd honestly rather not vote for most of the candidates, and are only pulling the ballot to influence one or two races that they actually care about.
There is a way out of the lousy-candidate trap, but it requires voters to take a brave stance: cast a vote that boycotts the primaries of both establishment parties in an active and recorded way, either by pulling an alternate party's ballot where it's available, or by pulling the nonpartisan, referenda-only ballot as a vote of "no confidence" in both the Democrat and Republican slates.
Voters in the 12th Congressional District (southern Illinois) and in nearly all of Cook County (the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago) will have the option of pulling a Green Party ballot this year, thanks to the party's work in gaining "established" status despite the significant barriers written into Illinois law. In those places, the party has candidates on the ballot, and in the case of the Water Reclamation District race needs at least 1,720 Cook County voters to pull the Green Party ballot and participate in the write-in-only primary set by the Cook County Clerk's office to fill a vacancy.
In the rest of the state, voters can still ask for a nonpartisan ballot, which will feature only the statewide and local referenda questions, with no candidates of any party listed. Either option sends a clear message to both Democrats and Republicans: "No thank you; your candidates this year weren't good enough for me."Read more
The Unannounced Election
Cook County voters in the March 20th primary election are going to see something unusual on their ballots: an election with no candidates, just a blank ballot line and the option to cast a write-in vote.
It will likely take most people by surprise, since the Cook County Clerk's office, the election authority for county-wide races in Cook County, has issued no public statements, voter notices, press releases, or other information regarding the ballot line.
Established political parties received notification of a special write-in-only primary via their central committees, less than a week before the filing deadline for write-in candidates and less than a month before the start of early voting. Other than that legally-mandated notification, the Clerk's office has been silent on the subject.
So, What's the Secret Election For?
The write-in-only ballot line is for a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) Board of Commissioners, the nine-member elected body that oversees Cook County's billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded wastewater treatment and flood abatement agency.
For more than twenty years, the MWRD Board of Commissioners has been an all-Democrat body, and a functional rubber-stamp on all private contracts put before the Board for approval.
Termed the "Unexpired 2-Year Term (Vacancy of Bradford)" on March 20th primary ballots, the write-in-only primary will determine which candidates are listed on the general election ballots in November for an open seat on the MWRD Board of Commissioners, left vacant by the December 2017 death of sitting Commissioner Timothy Bradford.
When news broke this week that Arthur Jones, a 70-year-old self-avowed Nazi and Holocaust denier, would be the unopposed Republican candidate in Illinois' 3rd Congressional district, the reaction in most quarters was to blame the Republican Party—either for allowing an environment in which Nazis can flourish, or just for being asleep at the wheel on the 3rd Congressional primary, depending on the editorial slant.
What's missing from most coverage is the thoroughly rigged ballot access system that allowed Jones to sneak onto the ballot.
Jones, pictured above, is unopposed in the Republican Primary for Illinois' 3rd Congressional District.
Out-of-state commentators (and even some from in-state) may not realize it, but Illinois election law is designed to encourage and enforce a two-party system. Candidates in Illinois must submit petitions signed by residents of their district to be listed on the ballot, gathered within a 90-day window, and the number of signatures required is based on partisan affiliation.
In simple terms: getting your name on the ballot as a candidate in Illinois gets easier or harder depending on your political party.
In Congressional races, like Jones's, candidates of "established parties"—Democrats and Republicans, with a few hard-won exceptions—only need to submit signatures equal to one-half of one percent of their party's total votes from that district in the previous election.
Independent candidates or candidates of "new parties"—which means any party that did not earn at least 5% of the vote in that district in the previous election, regardless of how long it's been around or how many candidates it has in office statewide—must submit signatures equal to five percent of the total vote from the previous election.
The discrepancies border on the absurd. In the case of the 3rd Congressional race, Arthur Jones needed 603 signatures to become a ballot-listed Republican candidate. Despite his odious politics, he was clearly able to do so (demonstrating along the way either that there are over 600 Nazis in the 3rd Congressional, or that petition signatures are a largely meaningless demonstration of "support" within the district). A member in good standing of the Green Party, Libertarian Party, or any other non-Democrat/Republican party, on the other hand, would need to gather 14,559 signatures to represent their party on the ballot in that same race.Read more