Illinois Ballot Access Laws Pit Third Parties Against Each Other

Illinois has some seriously biased ballot access laws against third parties, i.e. any political party other than Democrats or Republicans. In 2012, a third party candidate for President needed 25,000 signatures to get on the ballot, while the D’s and R’s needed nominal signatures for their party primaries, and it is assumed that home-state favorite Barack Obama (D) will win the state. ,

The petitioning period for third parties and independents in Illinois ended last week, and while the Green Party and the Libertarian Party submitted over 25 thousand signatures, four other candidates submitted less than 20 signatures, three of them submitted less than 5 signatures, and based on Illinois state law, any citizen can challenge petitions.

The National Green Party didn’t challenge any petitions, nor did the Illinois Green Party, but one Rob Sherman, a three time Green Party candidate for office, Chair of the Cook County Greens, and outspoken advocate for separation of church and state, did. He filed a challenge to the nomination papers of:

  • Stewart Alexander (Socialists)- 1 signature
  • Michael Hawkins (Together Enhancing America) – 1 signature (but he did submit 5 blank pages)
  • Rocky Anderson (Independent) – 2 signatures
  • Virgil Goode (Constitution) – approx 200 to 300 signatures (35 pages, 10 lines/page)

The Illinois Green Party spent around $8,0000 and put in countless hours to get the Green Party on the ballot in Illinois.  Other than Virgil Goode, the other three candidates put in less than 60 minutes and no money to get on the Illinois ballot. This double standard is frustrating – on the one hand, the Green Party suffered from harsh challenges by Democrats to get on the ballot in 2006, but on the other hand, taking a chance with just two signatures is a colossal risk for a national presidential campaign that hopes to unite the progressive movements with the Occupy protests for real political change in America.

National Greens have come out against the challenge to the petitions of the Socialist, Justice Party and Independent campaigns. The most notable argument that seems to summarize the typical Green Party opposition to the challenges comes from third party and green party advocate Howie Hawkins here (in a statement posted at Ballot Access News)

I know how hard it is to get on the ballot. I’ve petitioned successfully 17 of 19 attempts for myself and petitioned countless times for other Green candidates, with mixed success because of major party challenges or state official malfeasance. I have been challenged on my own petitions by the Democrats almost every time, most of them utterly frivolous challenges that served only to force me to devote limited time and resources to defend my petition instead of campaign for the office.

The strongest case in favor of the challenges comes from Rob Sherman himself, in a comment left at Independent Political Report:

Unless you have been out there, collecting nominating petition signatures (as I did when I ran for State Rep in 2006 and 2008 and for Village Clerk in 2010), you have no idea how incredibly taxing it is on the legs and feet, and how challenging it is to be out there in all kinds of weather, such as day after day of 90+ degree heat this year, and frigid conditions with frequent blowing snow when I was out there in previous years.  After all of that intense physical suffering by so many, you want me to do what?

Among ballot access advocates and Green Party organizers, this has become a problematic situation. While third parties share in common a complex set of exclusive ballot access laws, there has been a general sense of solidarity on the ballot access front. For an apparently significant Green Party leader to take the lead position to knock possibly four other third party candidates off the ballot in Illinois is significant, and possibly damaging for the Green Party. On the other hand, the greens and Libertarians clearly put together the volunteers and resources to qualify for the ballot in Illinois, far in excess of the number of signatures that the four challenged parties submitted.

So what do you think? Should the Greens have challenged those petitions or not?

Ronald Hardy


  1. The Green Party didn’t challenge those petitions. Rob Sherman who happens to be Green challenged the petitions.

    • Rob Sherman was aided by Andrew Finko, a lawyer and member of the Cook County Green Party. How do the actions of these individual members reflect on the progressive nature Green Party and it’s opposition to restrictive ballot access as a member of Coalition On Free and Open Elections (COFOE)?

      COFOE will be meeting in Baltimore during the Green Party Convention. Will Socialists and others pickett the convention and demand the Greens be kicked out of COFOE?

      It’s bad enough to have the Democrats and Republicans try to screw 3rd parties off the ballot, but to have a “friend” such as these two Green Party members stab the Socialist Party in the back makes me question my 12 year membership in the IL-GP.

      Besides Howie Hawkins, Illinois Green Rich Whitney, two time candidate for Governor, also issued an eloquent statement that Mr. Sherman withdraw his opposition.

  2. Forgot to include this statement from Jill Stein on my prior post.

    “Dear Rob, I urge you to withdraw your challenge to the ballot petitions of the other independent parties in Illinois.
    I can understand the need to maintain a ballot line for the Illinois Greens after this election. But the cost of this challenge is the sense of solidarity that exists with these same parties where we are filing challenges together to open up ballot lines across the country. In particular, challenging the Justice Party and the Socialist Party petitions raises difficulties for us.
    Yours truly,
    Jill Stein, M.D.”

  3. Rob sent out this message to a bunch of people who emailed him about the challenge (reposted with his permission):

    I’ve read every word of every Illinois Green Party post during the past three days, plus many direct e-mails from concerned political party members from around the country. Here’s my perspective on the controversies regarding my challenges to presidential candidates, in which one set of candidates that submitted one signature (just 24,999 short), one set of candidates that submitted two signatures (24,998 short), one set of candidates who submitted about 250 signatures (just 24,750 short) and one candidate for president who submitted one signature and didn’t even list a Vice Presidential candidate. The Illinois Green Party, on the other hand, submitted over 30,000 signatures, collected by hundreds of volunteers and supported by thousands of dollars in donations to cover volunteers’ expenses and the expense of the operation.

    Of course, I welcome your comments.

    If you want to have volunteers, donors and paid staff willing to contribute the next time, you absolutely cannot disrespect their efforts by telling them that they just wasted ALL of their time and money, because candidates could have gotten on the ballot without doing ANY of the things that our people did. You won’t have volunteers and donors, the next time, if you do that.

    Part of my job as Cook County Green Party Chairman is to think ahead about the matter of volunteers and donations in future years. I need to make sure that we don’t destroy our ability to generate volunteers and donors in future years, by telling our contributors that they were just throwing their time and money away because candidates can just as easily get on the ballot with none of that work or money.

    Our donors and volunteers wouldn’t publicly complain if I dropped my objections, but I doubt that they would be back to do it, all over again, the next time, if they thought that they were completely wasting their efforts. I’m not going to just throw away all of their efforts and walk away from all of their hard work, by telling the challenged candidates that they can have the same ballot benefits as us, without putting forth any of the effort, time or money that we did.

    Unless you have been out there, collecting nominating petition signatures (as I did when I ran for State Rep in 2006 and 2008 and for Village Clerk in 2010), you have no idea how incredibly taxing it is on the legs and feet, and how challenging it is to be out there in all kinds of weather, such as day after day of 90+ degree heat this year, and frigid conditions with frequent blowing snow when I was out there in previous years. After all of that intense physical suffering by so many, you want me to do what?

    The Dems and Repubs didn’t challenge any presidential Third Partiers because they want the Third Party voters divided as widely as possible. As Andy wrote at noon on Tuesday, if Third Party votes are divided among many candidates, all Third Party presidential candidates would appear to be weak and inconsequential since none would be generating a respectable percentage of the vote.

    That’s exactly what the Dems and Repubs want, but that’s exactly the opposite of what we need. We want to demonstrate that we are a strong and credible political force that is rapidly moving in the direction of overthrowing the government at the ballot box. That’s why the Dems and Repubs didn’t challenge anybody but I did.

    Indeed, Dems and Repubs have a long-standing political trick for protecting lousy incumbents. If somebody is going to run against the incumbent, the D’s and R’s make sure that lots of names appear on the ballot. Opposition totals are so fragmented amongst the many opponents that the lousy incumbent can retain office with much less than 50% of the vote. It’s a trick.

    Jessica, at 11:09 p.m. on Tuesday, wrote, “I don’t see the harm of having more options on the ballot.” I disagree. We don’t have to be suckers and affirm the “split up / divide the opposition” trick to our detriment. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that this trick doesn’t work against us. It doesn’t matter whether the D’s and/or R’s are behind such a trick, this time. The effect is the same. My challenges are necessary to negate the effect of that type of situation from prospective candidates who have not done anything to earn their way onto the ballot.

    Audrey, who if you didn’t know is co-chair of the Green Party of the United States, wrote, in an e-mail at 7:59 a.m. on Tuesday, about the difference between reasonable and repressive ballot access laws. I’m all for ballot access, which is why I have repeatedly gone to Springfield at my own expense (have any of you?) to testify before legislative Election Law committees in support of lowering the number of signatures required, and in support of making signature requirements level for all candidates, as Patrick suggested in his e-mail at 11:29 a.m. on Tuesday. For that reason, I wouldn’t have challenged anybody trying to get on the presidential ballot with 3,000 valid signatures, because if that’s the standard for D’s and R’s, it should be the standard for everybody.

    Walter indicated, in an e-mail at 4:09 a.m. on Tuesday, that we might get “hammered in the media for challenging these petitions” and that “This is going to completely destroy our credibility if Rob doesn’t withdraw his objections.” I disagree. This is called “blaming the victim.” We aren’t the ones that sought ballot access with a preposterously small number of signatures. They are. It is them who are going to get hammered in the media for doing the wrong thing, not us for doing the right thing. The challenged candidates ought to be apologizing to us for their misconduct, rather than us apologizing to them for objecting to their gross misconduct.

    Walter reversed his position in an e-mail at 1:14 p.m. on Tuesday, saying “We should be prepared with well reasoned arguments.” Nancy agreed with that sentiment at 1:28 p.m. on Tuesday. That’s what this e-mail is all about.

    Audrey also wrote, at 9:07 a.m. on Tuesday, to express concern about the effect that my challenges would have on ballot access cases in other states. Not to worry. There’s a big difference between file one, or two hundred, signatures, and a law that requires 85,000 signatures. For that reason, my challenges will help, not hurt, those cases, because I have a long established history of advocating for reasonable ballot access. Neither one signature nor 85,000 are reasonable for statewide elections. Somewhere between 1,000 to 3,000 is reasonable. Audrey seemed to agree in her e-mail at 9:14 p.m. on Wednesday, when she said, “I don’t see how the preservation of petitions demonstrating the support of exactly one voter will persuade the court that minor parties have demonstrated a modicum of support elsewhere in the U.S.”

    Rich wrote, at 10:51 a.m. on Tuesday, that he has “a problem with our party attacking the interests of another pro-labor party.” Rich has it backwards. It is those other parties that are attacking us by running candidates against our candidates. We are trying to win an election, but they are attacking us by running candidates against our people. If they were truly our friends, they wouldn’t be supporting opponents to run against the Green Party. It is them who should be apologizing to us, not the other way around.

    In that same e-mail, Rich wrote, “I know nothing about Michael Hawkins.” Here’s all you need to know about him: He called me on the phone, Tuesday evening, to complain, bitterly, about my challenge to his papers. He became increasingly agitated. He insisted that we meet in person. I told him that I would be glad to meet him at the offices of the State Board of Elections when my challenge is heard by them. He said, “No.” He then told me that I was “destroying his dream,” that he wanted to “meet with me tonight,” that “he knew where I lived from the papers that I filed” and that he was “on his way over to my house, immediately, to settle this matter right now.” I immediately invoked the “disaster plan” that I have had on standby with the Buffalo Grove Police Department for many years because I am a prominent public figure. I quickly got my wife and daughter out of the way for their safety. The matter with Hawkins is now resolved and the threat is passed. Thank you, again, BGPD, for being ready. As Andy wrote in an e-mail at noon on Tuesday, “Michael Hawkins is a nut job.”

    It was shortly after that incident that I started reading all of your e-mails about how I should drop my challenges to Hawkins and the others. I am literally risking my life, and the lives of the members of my family, to stand up for the Green Party. I’m not going to withdraw any of my challenges, as Phil urged in an e-mail at 11:06 p.m. on Tuesday, when we worked so hard to follow the rules, and continue to risk so much, while they don’t bother to put forth any serious effort at all.

    In that same e-mail, Rich expressed concern about harming “strategic alliances with other parties.” They chose to run candidates against us without getting nominating petition signatures. It is them who should be concerned about harming their relationships with us, not us concerned about harming our relationships with them.

    Gary, who is a member of the Coalition for Free and Open Elections, wrote, at 4:01 p.m. on Tuesday, that “Every party on the ballot is a step toward electoral freedom.” No! Every candidate on the ballot who hasn’t earned his way onto the ballot waters down the Third Party vote, which has the exact opposite effect on electoral freedom by preserving the two corporate parties.

    Audrey, Sheldon and Rita “get it” with regards to why I filed my challenges. At 6:19 a.m. on Wednesday, Audrey wrote: If the “Socialist and Justice Party candidates dilute the Green Party vote in November … why would it be in ILGP’s interest to accede to their frivolous petitions?” Sheldon wrote, at 8:31 a.m. on Wednesday, “We will lose votes if there are 8 candidates on the ballot.” At 10:07 a.m. on Wednesday, Rita wrote, the “purpose of the objection process … is to remove non-serious … candidates. We need to advocate for more equitable ballot access while not abdicating our responsibility as watchdogs to prevent abuse of ballot access loopholes that can cripple our good-faith efforts.” Precisely!

    This isn’t about being friends with other progressives. This is about changing our society for the better by getting progressives, namely our people, elected. That won’t happen through weakness achieved through allowing undeserving candidates to dilute our vote totals.

    I became Cook County Chairman for the specific purpose of taking the Green Party to the Big Leagues and having our candidates actually win elections, not merely engage in feel-good rhetoric about, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if only we were in office? I’m playing to win.

    Phil wrote, at 12:38 p.m. on Wednesday, that my challenge could have the effect of “Destroying the relationship we have” with the Constitution Party. I disagree. It is the Constitution Party that should be worried about destroying their relationship with us for using a severely deficient set of nominating papers in an effort to take votes away from our candidate.

    All of the challenged candidates can still get on the ballot via Write-In. Having your name pre-printed on the ballot implies that you got at least 25,000 signature on nominating petitions, that you complied with all of the other election laws AND that you have a sufficiently broad base of support in Illinois that merits voters using their time to do research about the listed candidates.

    That last one is a very important factor. Voters have a limited amount of time to do candidate research. It’s not fair to trick voters into spending their time doing research on a candidate by falsely implying, by being pre-printed on the ballot, that they have amassed a broad base of support in Illinois for their candidacy when they actually haven’t.

    IT WOULD BE A FRAUD AGAINST THE TIME OF THE VOTERS FOR CANDIDATES TO FALSELY IMPLY THAT THEY HAVE A BROAD BASE OF SUPPORT, BY PRE-PRINTING THOSE CANDIDATES’ NAMES ON THE BALLOT WHEN, IF FACT, THOSE CANDIDATES HAVE NO SUCH SUPPORT. So, what I’m doing through my challenge is protecting voters from having their time wasted by candidates who falsely claim that their campaign platform and character have generated sufficiently wide public supported to merit being pre-printed on the ballot.

    Withdrawing would imply that my actions were impulsive, not well thought out and shift with the wind. As you can see by the above commentary, that definitely is not the case. I carefully considered the matters that I discussed, above, before making the decision to file objections.

    The candidates whom I challenged are welcome to contact me and try to explain to me rob@robsherman.com or (847) 870-0700 why they should be on the ballot. In particular, what I want to know from them is: What should I, the Cook County Green Party Chairman, tell the volunteers who worked thousands of hours in scorching hot weather and walked thousands of miles, collectively, as to why I should withdraw my challenges and allow these other candidates to get on the ballot with one or two or, in one case, about 250, signatures? What should I tell the donors who collectively contributed thousands of dollars, as to why these other candidates should waltz onto the ballot without doing anything?

    The ballot is open to anybody. We organized, did the work and raised the money, so we’re on the ballot. They didn’t so they’re not going to be.

    Finally, leadership is about doing what’s right and convincing others to follow you. What Andy and I are doing is right. Now that you know why, I urge you to follow or, at least, respect our decision.

    You are all welcome to respond. Use the Illinois Green Party listserve if you are part of that system. Otherwise, feel free to contact me directly.

  4. I don’t think it’s the laws that are causing the conflict here. I think it is the Green Party member who is challenging other third parties’ petitions. Not to mention, paulie of Independent Political Report, who collects signatures for a living, mentioned that if the Greens had been challenged, even they didn’t have enough signatures to survive the challenge and stay on the ballot. This is highly hypocritical and I hope it gets withdrawn.

  5. Rob Sherman wants to challenge the petitions that fine he is with in his legal right to do so, but he sure as hell better not complain if some one does it to him in the the future or any other Green party. Nor do I think that the Illinois Greens have to much of leg to stand on in the future i the Illinois Dems challenge any of their petitions when the chair of Green Party in the largest county in the state did so himself.

  6. That being said 25,0000 may seem like a large number but given that there are some where in the neighborhood of 7 million registered voters that works out to 3/10s of one percent of the electorate. Regardless of whether or not that is a fair requirement the ballot laws did not set any third parties against each other because no one can make else challenge a petition. Rob Sherman choose to challenge those petitions, he set himself against those minor parties and by extension the Illinois Green party against other minor parties.

  7. From the Georgia Green Party:

    Greens denounce action of Illinois Party County Chairman

    Friday, July 6th, 2012

    For further information, contact:
    678-298-9463 x3

    Georgia Green Party Chairman urges Withdraw of Challenges

    In a letter faxed this morning to the Chairman of the Cook County Illinois Green Party, Bruce Dixon, Chair of the Georgia Green Party urged that the Illinois Party official withdraw his challenge to the ballot access petitions filed by competing political parties.

    “Our position in support of open ballot access is grounded not in any parochial self-interest we as Greens have in seeing our own candidates on the ballot,” wrote Mr. Dixon, himself a Chicago native who relocated to Cobb County Georgia a decade ago, “but in the democratic principle that a voter ought to have the opportunity to cast a ballot for their candidates of choice and to have those ballots counted.”

    Mr. Dixon’s letter accuses the Illinois chairman of setting “a very dangerous precedent.” He points out the strategic alliance being built, not only in Georgia but across the nation, among emerging political parties. These parties are working together in spite of their many political differences to challenge the undemocratic barriers which deny voters an opportunity to cast ballots for their candidates of choice.

    The Georgia Green Party is a co-plaintiff with the Constitution Party of Georgia in litigation challenging the barriers they face with respect to access to the Georgia ballot for their respective 2012 Presidential slates. Georgia poses the most restrictive barriers to ballot access in the world. The barriers were erected in 1943 to limit the participation of black voters, already prohibited from participation in the all-white Democratic primary, from challenging public elections in the General Election by organizing with other parties.

    The Georgia Green Party has organized since 1996 to provide an electoral alternative for voters committed to peace and justice, democracy and ecology. Its has fielded dozens of candidates, most of whom have run as write-in candidates, although some of its candidates in local and non-partisan races have scored 30% or more at the polls. The Party has fielded Presidential slates in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Jill Stein of Massachusettes is expected to win the Party’s nomination at its Presidential Nominating Convention, to be held next weekend in Baltimore Maryland.

  8. The reason I chose the wording of this title is because if Illinois used “normal” ballot access rules, all of the political parties would have the same access to the ballot. For example in Wisconsin, if you are running for a state wide office the number of signatures required is 2,000 whether you are Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Republican, Socialist, etc. All candidates for a US House race need 1,000 signatures. All candidates for State Senate seats need 400, State Assembly seats need 200. I believe ballot access laws need to be “Party blind”.

    What happened in Illinois is very unfortunate, and I think it was motivated by the feeling that the Illinois Greens busted their asses and spent thousands of dollars to get on the ballot, and Rocky Anderson got on for a song. It doesn’t seem fair.

    However I am against challenging petitions in general. In Wisconsin several years ago the Greens had a candidate for state assembly against an incumbent Republican. At the last minute a candidate showed up for the Democrats with 201 signatures. The Green considered challenging, and I advised against it, so they didn’t. Turned out the Republican challenged them instead and got the Democrat kicked off. That pushed Democratic voters to vote Green that year in Kenosha.

  9. From Richard Winger, Ballot Access News:

    Ever since Illinois toughed its ballot access laws in 1931, it has been traditional for some minor parties to file petitions with only a few signatures, and hope no one challenges. The Prohibition Party regularly did this in the 1930’s and 1940’s for Cook County offices. The Libertarian Party filed US House candidates in 1996 in all 20 districts, and 10 were not challenged and got on. The Constitution Party filed only a few hundred signatures in 2008 and got on for President. There is nothing illegitimate about this technique. It is a gamble, but it sometimes pays off, and then the party has more resources for other states.

    Petitioning is basically irrational. It costs governments, on the average, $1 to check one signature on one petition. Governments in some states, like California, spend millions checking signatures. It costs the taxpayers of California $1,300,000 to check the Americans Elect petition. Republicans and Democrats in most states have abolished mandatory petitions for primary ballot access. And some states don’t have mandatory petitions for new or minor parties either, such as Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Vermont, and Louisiana.

    Great Britain never requires more than 10 signatures for a candidate for House of Commons. Petitioning wastes the resources of minor parties, and is not equivalent to campaigning. If minor parties could spend the money they now spend on petitioning on campaigning instead, that would be a great leap forward. Greens are accustomed to being visionary and I hope that Greens turn their analytical powers to this matter.

    Also the Constitution and Green Parties are co-plaintiffs together in 5 constitutional ballot access lawsuits, in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Mexico. Most of those states are fiercely fighting the lawsuits by claiming neither party has voter support. Having the Constitution Party removed from the Illinois ballot will injure those lawsuits. Part of the evidence in these cases is how many states are each of these parties on the ballot.

    • Odd isn’t it that the Green Party is now supporting restrictive signature requirements because they collected 30,000 (so they say) and anyone who didn’t doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot, even if they legally could be. Sounds like sour grapes.

      If the Dems had challenged the Greens then they would be crying foul all over the media. Guess the Greens are now the “New Dems”.

      • I’m sorry “because they collected 30,000 (so they say)” ?? We collected roughly 29,500 signatures. I was present when we submitted the 3,104 sheets to the Board of Elections in Springfield. So yes, the ILGP does SAY that we turned in close to 30,000 signatures.

  10. Rob Sherman was right to challenge those others.

    Come on. 2 signatures.

    They do not deserve to be on the ballot.

    Rob what you did was sensible, common sense politics.

    • That fine if you believe so, but it also means that Rob Sherman and any of his supports should no complain when/if the Democrats challenge Green party petitions if they fall short of the required number or if they have invalid signatures on them.

  11. I applaud the efforts of Illinois Greens and others in collecting the required signatures to get the Green Party, Jill Stein, and other candidates on the ballot. They are to be congratulated. That said, I abhor the challenge Rob Sherman has invoked against other minor party candidates. They are using their resources and their strategy to participate in our democracy. We should be working to support their and others efforts to do this.

  12. We should be protesting and litigating in states which have outrageous ballot access requirements, and encourage efforts of other parties and candidates to do so. The Illinois Greens haven’t always been able to pull off a successful ballot drive, and in the absence of funds and volunteers this time, might have made the same decision as Stewart Alexander – to go ahead and file insufficient papers in protest.

    All this challenge accomplishes is a re-inforcement of Illinois’ uniquely manipulable system and tradition of ballot challenges, possibly the worst in the nation, where challenging political opponents of the ballot has become routine (our current president eliminated some of his competition via challenges) and its ridiculous ballot access requirements.

    Laos sd because in many places, Greens and SPUSA have worked well together; this serves to drive one more wedge between activists who would otherwise be allies.

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