Today is the last day for candidates to file their nominating petitions for municipal office, including the 2011 Chicago elections. But we won't know who's actually on the ballot for another couple of weeks. That's because candidates can be removed from the ballot if challenged for not meeting all of the criteria in state law. Many challenges are brought for good reason, but all too often, challenges, including successful ones that remove candidates from the ballot, are not based on good policy.
Much of the attention on challenges, as with the rest of the Chicago elections, appears to be focused on residency issues. Rahm Emanuel may face a challenge based on his residency, just as other candidates have in the recent past. Other common reasons for bringing challenges include the failure by the candidate to submit the necessary number of petition signatures, the invalidity of some signatures, and errors by petition passers.
And yet, challenges often become tools for narrowing voter choice or diluting the votes of blocs of voters. We hope that every candidate who filed petitions and who also filed their Statement of Economic Interest remembered to file the receipt for their Statement with their election authority. Failure to file the receipt, as readers of this blog know, is grounds for dismissing the petition, even if the candidate did actually file the Statement itself. Candidates can, legally, be tossed from the ballot if there are problems with the status of their petition passer, or the notary who signed the petition; otherwise legitimate voter signatures can be rejected if there are problems with binding and numbering petition pages.
We hope that challengers and election authorities will remember the legitimate public policy reasons candidates file petitions and why challengers object. The point of elections is so that voters can choose who among them is best suited to represent their interests in public office. Public officials have to meet basic qualifications (typically age- and citizenship-based). Any serious candidate with sufficient support in the district should be allowed to run; anyone who is not serious about holding office or who lacks support in the district should not.
Elections should offer voters an honest selection of qualified people willing to serve. Too often, voters are denied that right to choose, and petition signers are ignored, because someone on the campaign failed to color within the lines. Such challenges are a travesty of democratic process, and should not be used to disregard the clear will of the voters.