Friday, February 09, 2018

Lessons learned from Electoral Board actions... could ballot access rules be relaxed?

Twenty-five years ago, when I was first circulating petitions to run for judge, it was tough getting people to open their front doors.

I had my poll sheets and my clipboard and my brochures---it was pretty obvious what I was up to---but, on porch after porch, after ringing the doorbell, I'd see the curtains or blinds move, just a little, and then... quite often... nothing happened. I'd wait awhile, awkwardly, hopefully. Then I'd move on.

It can't possibly be any easier today.

It seems like very time I see the news there's another story about someone impersonating a plumber, electric company employee, gas company employee -- whatever -- knocking on a door, bamboozling the homeowner into taking him to the basement or the yard while a confederate surreptitiously enters the house, scooping up electronics or jewelry.

Yeah, I know that has nothing to do with getting judicial candidates on the ballot. But you know what does? Every one of these stories ends with a police official warning viewers: Don't open your door. To anyone. Ever.

Now let me shift gears (I promise I can tie this up).

In this election cycle we have seen 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins knocked off the ballot because he couldn't scrounge up enough good signatures for a late-opening judicial vacancy. At the other end of the City, 50th Ward Committeeman Ira Silverstein nearly lost his bid for reelection to the State Senate before it began -- he reportedly had the same problem as Brookins (not enough signatures after a records examination), although I've read accounts indicating that Silverstein was able to rehabilitate just enough signatures to stay on the ballot.

These are the professionals, mind you. The Election Code was designed by the political professionals to get them on the ballot... and keep interlopers off.

I can't imagine ward committeemen or the sons of ward committeemen having trouble getting on the ballot in the days of Richard J. Daley. Unless, of course, they were troublemakers or malcontents from the 5th or 43rd Wards.

The pros knew how to get themselves---and those happy few who, for whatever reason, were chosen to fill out a ticket---on the ballot with a minimum of fuss. Professor Milton L. Rakove documented this in Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers (Indiana University Press, 1975). Da Late Mare supported Rakove's academic study of the Cook County Democratic Party to the point of giving him a place on the county ticket in 1970 (in a 'suicide squad' race for a suburban seat on the Cook County Board). Once anointed, though, Rakove realized that he had no idea how to get the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. He promptly repaired to party headquarters to ask Chairman Daley's office manager, Mary Mullen, what he should do. "She responded, pointing to a stack of petitions on a table, 'See that pile over there on that table? Those are your signatures, 8,000 names. This is an organization we are running here.'" (Don't Make No Waves..., p. 99, n. 1.)

In the Bad Old Days, Democratic Party committeemen had precinct captains ready and able to fan out across the county or any necessary part thereof to gather signatures for any vacancy, even if it just happened (*cough*cough*) to open up at the very last minute. The system worked... as designed... for those for whom it was designed to work.

In this election cycle, though, the system almost failed for one committeeman and didn't work for the son of another committeeman.

In Brookins' case, at least, part of the problem may have involved the use of paid circulators.

Paid circulators are most likely going to be folks drifting through the subway cars, approaching people in parking lots, walking through the tavern -- not the men or women carrying poll sheets and standing forlornly on your front porch. Which the police have warned you never to open. (See? I tied it up!)

There is nothing inherently wrong with paid circulators. I've signed petitions at the request of paid circulators on subway platforms and in parking lots and so, probably, have you. But, as the pros will tell you, the failure rate on signatures gathered in this manner is usually much greater than that for signatures gathered door to door. Paid circulators are like the bowl of Super Sugar Crunchies in an old TV ad: The announcer would caution that the cereal was part of a balanced breakfast -- and it was always shown with nutritious milk, and orange juice, and a grapefruit, and toast -- and the announcer never said how much a part. Whatever, even the cereal maker never claimed the cereal was itself a healthy meal.

If you're using paid circulators to supplement your own signature-gathering efforts, and the efforts of your family and friends, using the sheets provided by the paid circulators to add heft to your petitions and maybe scare off potential challengers, you're in good shape. If you're relying on paid circulators exclusively, you may have a problem. Better plan on buying a lot of signatures.

How many? Ald. Brookins turned in over 3,500 signatures -- and came up somewhere between 250 and 400 signatures short of the 1,000 he needed to get on the ballot.

But here's the thing: If two prominent Chicago politicians could not easily qualify for the ballot, maybe the political professionals will decide to look at whether the rules need to be changed. Tweaked, at least. This cycle may be dismissed as fluky... maybe the pros will cite candidate-specific problems... but, if enough committeemen are also finding that people aren't opening their doors for them or their people, there may be some impetus for reform. Well, revision anyway.

The goal would still be to leave a chasm between those who benefit from the arcane provisions of the Election Code and the rest of us Great Unwashed. But any easing of requirements could conceivably benefit the attentive. Such as, perhaps, the many smart lawyers who read FWIW and hope one day to attain the bench.

Is there hope for change in the near future?

This year a number of disappointed county office-seekers, one of them Todd Stroger, filed suit in Federal court to have the requirements for Cook County candidates (more than 8,000 signatures required for Cook County Sheriff or a seat on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District) struck down or at least conformed to the requirements for statewide office (only 5,000 signatures required for Governor). See, Acevedo, et al. v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, et al., 18 C 293. So far, the action has not fared well -- Judge Bucklo denied the Plaintiffs' motion for a TRO on January 24 -- but the point is that these are not Communists or some other fringe group complaining about onerous signature requirements (the leading case in the area is Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173 (1979)) but, rather, not-quite-inside-enough-insiders, including the son and heir of one of Da Late Mare's most prominent, and reliable, committeemen.

(Any student of Chicago history can easily explain why it is harder to run for Cook County Sheriff than Governor: Keeping the Sheriff's office under control was considered much more important to the health and prosperity of the Cook County Democratic Party than holding the Governor's office. Good heavens. Aldermen were important. People gave up seats in Congress for a chance to be Alderman. If an independent alderman became too great a nuisance, he could always be exiled somewhere where he could do the organization no harm -- perhaps to the U.S. Senate, as in the case of Paul Douglas.)

So, with the Brookins and Silverstein problems, with the Acevedo case, and with police officials repeatedly telling homeowners---registered voters---not to open their doors to anyone, some of the tea leaves are pointing tentatively, cautiously, arguably in the direction of loosening signature requirements. And it might even happen, too.

I'm not smart enough or connected enough to predict that something will or won't happen, but I will predict that, if it happens soon, it will happen right at the very end of May....


Anonymous said...

The signature requirement is 1,000. Not 5,000. Not 8,000. But a measly 1,000. The real story here is that none of these committeemen have people to do the work. They will talk the talk and take your money for "slating" but in the end they are just stealing your money and only "reform" when the system no longer works for them. Brookins and Silverstein didn't even try to get good signatures. I wonder how many of hose "circulators" even exist or how many empty lots or bar stools in the 21 and 49 wards were listed as addresses. You knock on the doors of people who live in their areas and ask the voters for their opinion of either of these individuals and you are likely to get an earful. Well over 80 candidates have filed to be on the ballot this year and the overwhelming majority got their signatures. But the moment Howie and Ira and Toad have problems people start demanding "reform." Ok. Why don't we reform the election code so that when people commit election fraud they are permanently banned from circulating petitions. I have read repeated articles this cycle about that convicted FELON still circulating for candidates despite the fact that he committed fraud in connection to signature collection. Why don't we reform THAT. Here's the kicker, he advertised collecting signatures for winning judicial candidate currently on trial in federal court for mortgage fraud. Hmm. That's a confidence builder.

Anonymous said...


You must be a scary guy. I had -- tops -- 10 people not sign my sheets. The other 4,392 were impressed that I knocked on their doors. Consistency and assertiveness pays off. Laziness and sloth yields whining when you are deservedly tossed off. How many sheets did Coplan, Karkula, Brookins, Sumner or Silverstein pass for themselves?

Jack Leyhane said...

Anon 2/10 at 8:19 a.m. -- I think you thought you were disagreeing with me. You wrote, "They will talk the talk and take your money for 'slating' but in the end they are just stealing your money and only 'reform' when the system no longer works for them."

But I think that was basically what I said. Only I didn't accuse anyone of stealing. I don't see how making such an accusation helps anything.

Here's the deal: Those in power seek first and foremost to remain there. They won't purposefully loosen the reins, even a smidge, for anyone else -- but opportunity arises when those in power "have problems" with the status quo. Of course they're doing it for their own benefit... but if some of the rest of us might benefit also, isn't that a good thing?

As for "fraud" -- this is such a loaded word. When one goes door to door, one can more readily verify that persons are signing in their proper names. When soliciting signatures in a parking lot or tavern it is harder to verify that persons are really registered and really signing their own names. One can easily ferret out the wiseacres who sign as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck -- but one may fail to catch the juvenile humor in the purported signatures of Ben and Eileen Dover or Ignatius P. Daly. A high failure rate may be indicative of deliberate fraud... but it may not be. I've seen 'pattern of fraud' raised in a great number of petition objections in this and other election cycles -- but the existence of such a pattern is, for whatever reason, not typically found as a fact in most resolutions.

And if some vendors/consultants have, um, colorful pasts, well, that's a matter of public record (especially where a matter has resulted in an Appellate Court opinion). Candidates should investigate the background of anyone they hire -- but the candidate who refuses to deal with anyone who is not purer than Caesar's wife is likely to wind up not dealing with anyone at all. Good luck getting elected that way. On the other hand, a person who has previously cut corners and has been punished for same should know better than anyone what is permissible and what is not. You, the candidate, should have standards and expectations and insist that anyone assisting you adhere to those standards. But I don't think that you can expect any formal regulation of political professionals that is in any way similar to the regulations which we must adhere to as lawyers.

Jack Leyhane said...

Anon 2/10 @8:24 a.m. -- I congratulate you on your success. I don't think I'm particularly scary, but I kind of like your explanation.

But let's not confuse things. If I could get someone to open the door, I generally got a signature. The hard part was getting someone to open the door -- and that's the part that I think may well be getting harder and harder.

Anonymous said...

Very nice blog Jack. You used your "snow day " well. I certainly agree with the comments about the paid circulators as you get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

Wow, posts that evoke 2 responses from Jack. "Reform" Spurs such debate. I just want to know the name of the lawyer who is knocking off these candidates and hire him or her next cycle! I also want Howard Brookins as my only opponent because I will be running unopposed really quick.

Anonymous said...

The signature requirement is already too loose. After all, we have a Nazi running for Congress. The fine folks of the Lipinski/Madigan Third Congressional District (also home of the Third Cook Subcircuit) just put a Nazi on the ballot. And no, I don't mean the current Congressman for that If a Nazi can get signatures but these democratic committeemen can't, well, that tells me that the problem isn't with "looking scary" or "police warnings to not open your doors," but rather that the Democratic Party ain't worth a damn and that its committeemen are too lazy to do the necessary work to get and stay on the ballot. I bet the Republicans let the guy on the ballot just so that Madigan would have to put some effort into ensuring that the nazi doesn't win. Remember the Governor's race of 1986 and the Larouchies? Yep. This has those same undertones, but on a smaller level. Go get 'em Mike.

Anonymous said...

You want real reform? Why do independents have to file almost 10 times the number of signatures as democrats? Because Madigan wants no opposition, that's why.

Anonymous said...

Jack is such a bad MOFO that folks don't want to open their doors. Go figure.

Jack Leyhane said...

Anon 2/11 @ 10:26 p.m.wrote "You want real reform? Why do independents have to file almost 10 times the number of signatures as democrats? Because Madigan wants no opposition, that's why."

Um, Anon, why this obsession with Mr. Madigan? I'm no insider, but I'd bet you a box of donuts that this is an area in which there is unanimous, bipartisan agreement. Nor is this a new requirement. Madigan wasn't a pup when political wiseguys froze out independents in Illinois. Lincoln may not have been a pup then either.

Anon 2/11 @6:05 p.m., who thinks the signature requirements entirely too loose, also wrote, "I bet the Republicans let the guy [Arthur Jones, a professed Holocaust denier] on the ballot [in the 3rd Congressional Dist.] just so that Madigan would have to put some effort into ensuring that the nazi doesn't win."

Well, Anon, a couple of things. First, the Republicans didn't "let" Jones on the ballot. He gathered the required signatures and filed the required paperwork. That part of the process is open to anyone who is willing to meet the prerequisites.

Second, I think you're giving "the Republicans" entirely too much credit here.

William Lipinski, the incumbent's father, faced no opposition in the 2002 general election. In 2004, after William Lipinski had bequeathed the seat to his son, Krista Grimm ran as a write-in Republican, losing by roughly a 33-1 margin.

In 2006, Lipinski defeated Ray Wardingley. You may remember him better as Spanky the Clown. Wardingley was the last Republican candidate for Mayor of Chicago, in 1995. In 2006 Wardingley bested the very same Nazi nutball who's running unopposed this year in the 3rd District Republican primary.

In 2008, Lipinski bested Michael Hawkins; in 2010, he beat Michael Bendas. In 2012, the Republican standard-bearer was Richard L. Grabowski. In 2014, the Republican candidate was Sharon M. Brannigan. (Last year, Brannigan resigned her post as a Palos Township trustee because of Facebook comments about immigrants from the Middle East.) None of these are what you might call household names.

In 2016, the Republicans had no candidate at all against Lipinski.

So, Anon, in imagining that Republicans conspired to run Jones---why anyone would do this I can't imagine, but whatever---you give the Republicans entirely too much credit. There are Republican voters in the 3rd Congressional District, but no recognizable Republican party. The "two-party system" is a sham in CD3 as it is in most places in Illinois (in most places Downstate, it's the Democrats who don't exist as an organized entity).

Finally, about those signature requirements: It took all of 603 signatures for Nazi Jones to qualify for the Republican primary in CD3. That compares to the 8,075 signatures required to run for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District as a Democrat this year. Well, you say, apples to oranges -- so, OK, it would have taken 3,206 signatures to get on the primary ballot for the MWRD as a Republican. (And only two filed as Republicans for the five MWRD vacancies... because there is, for all intents and purposes, no Republican Party in Cook County.)

It also shows you which offices the professional pols think important. As Richard J. Daley might have said, back in the Bad Old Days, a Congressman has no jobs worth having, and most of those are out of town besides. Anyway, Anon, the signature requirements aren't particularly loose for those offices that the professional pols think to be important.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

No new campaign gossip? Has there been a verdict in the Jessica O'Brien trial?