Thursday, January 18, 2007

Paper Tigers

ICPR supports protecting the integrity of elections. We believe that candidates should demonstrate a level of popular support before they can be listed on the ballot. We believe that election officials should do what they must to ensure smooth-running elections. And we believe that voters have a right to know about candidates' personal finances generally and their campaign finances specifically.

We are troubled, though, by media reports of candidates being knocked off the ballot for failing to cross every t and dot every i when they file petitions. What began as a process to ensure that voters would see only candidates making serious runs for office has in some places devolved into a process that ensures that voters see only the names of incumbents.

In at least three instances, candidates for office in Chicago, Decatur and Forest Park were thrown off the ballot for failing to file the receipt for their Statement of Economic Interest along with their petitions. In each of these instances, the candidates claim that they did in fact file the Statements of Economic Interest prior to filing petitions, ensuring that voters had access to the same information about them as about other candidates. But due to clerical error, a misunderstanding of Illinois' election law, or forgetfulness, they did not file the receipt for the Statement along with their petitions. And for that reason alone, they won't be on the ballot.

It's hard to see how the public interest is served in this instance by denying voters the chance to see these candidates on the ballot. Illinois' Constitution requires that candidates file Statements of Economic Interest and says that any candidate who fails to do so forfeits the right to appear on the ballot (office holders, too, forfeit their office by failing to file). But these candidates did file the Statement. It's only in statute that the law directs election authorities to deny candidates a spot on the ballot for not filing the receipt.

These rules seem arbitrary and intended for some purpose other than protecting the integrity of the election, especially since some flaws can be fixed after the petitions are filed while others, like the Statement receipt, cannot. The goal of the election is to give voters a choice among serious, credible candidates to select who is best fit to hold office. The rules should not be used unreasonably to narrow that choice to one between the incumbent and nobody else.

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