Friday, February 26, 2010

Chicago Sigs

Two recent stories, one in the Trib and one in Progress Illinois, highlight the problems with HB 6000, a proposal to make it more difficult to run for alderman in the City of Chicago. The Trib also editorialized about the bill. We echo those concerns; this bill will make it harder for candidates to run for city council in the state's largest municipality, with no apparent public policy benefit to the voters of the city.

There are two key elements to the bill. The first raises the number of signatures a candidate has to gather on petitions from 2% of the votes cast in the last municipal election to a flat 500. This would mean an increase of anywhere from 17% in the 19th Ward to nearly 600% in the 22nd; on average, it more than doubles the number of names required. While 500 names isn't so onerous (it's the same amount as for state House seats, even though House districts are much bigger than wards), it is still a big jump from the current rule.

But the number of signatures isn't the biggest problem with the bill. The second key element in the bill codifies a rule that petition signers can ink only one petition for city council. This has been the rule in other races, but is apparently not in statute for Chicago races -- the Chicago Board of Elections says they are routinely challenged on their application of the rule.

The one-petition-only rule means that once you sign one aldermanic petition, you cannot sign any others -- even if a better candidate comes along later. That is to say, when the guy with the clipboard asks for your help getting on the ballot, what you're really doing is committing to support that candidate over all others. It puts a terrific burden on petition signers.

On the other hand, if you are a candidate and you get out early, it creates an incentive to mop up as many signatures as you can. If you can get 5,000 signers, that's 5,000 fewer people who can sign an opponent's petitions. Getting 5,000 signatures won't be easy. But many incumbents can pull it off. So can some of the groups, like SEIU, who supported challengers in 2007. Furthermore, the signature rule creates new possibilities for candidacy challenges.

Is it good policy? The integrity of the ballot is certainly worth protecting. So what problem is this rule designed to solve? Are there too many frivolous candidates on the ballot? Is there an urgent need to have petition signers commit early to one and only one candidate? We don't see that as the biggest problem facing elections these days. On the contrary, there are too many reasons to toss candidates off the ballot, and this bill only creates more.

We hope the General Assembly will put the brakes on this measure.

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