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The Pettiness of Local Politics and Frivolity of Illinois Election Law

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The election season for local offices is heating up in Champaign. Recently the deadline passed for city mayor and city council. Of the 13 sets of petitions to get on the ballot, 11 had objections. Some of those objections are significant. For instance, mayoral candidate Mingee did not get enough signatures. Others border on absurd, such as the objection to city council candidate Freddie Gordon (he didn’t staple the forms). The entire list of petitions and objections can be seen here.

First, candidates for office should follow the rules and be fully familiar with them. If a candidate cannot be trusted to file paperwork correctly they can’t be trusted with political power. It should be just as simple as that. Some of the packets that were filed in the election show that the candidates simply did not put much effort into them. There should be no reason to have “scratched out” content when the form can be submitted with no errors in the first place.

However, the amount of landmines that appear in the quest to get on the ballot can only be designed to keep rookies off the ballot. Rookies, for the purpose of this article, are people like you and me as opposed to professional politicians. They are the exact people the Founding Fathers wanted in office when they talked about citizen legislators.

Starting with the challenge to the incumbent mayor, it should first be noted that the challenge was filed by Michael Richards who lost his election bid for County Clerk. His objection for Mayor Schweighart is that he did not put which city he was running for mayor for. To file for election in city races, one must file the petitions with the city clerk of that town. To run in Champaign, you file with the Champaign City Clerk. In Urbana, you file with the Urbana City Clerk. It is patently obvious where one intends to run for mayor, it is the city they filed the packet in. It’s obvious that Richards is spending his free time harassing actual elected office-holders.

The objection for city council candidate Freddie Gordon shows just how easy it can be to be knocked off the ballot. All that he missed was not stapling his petition sheets together. Other candidates did not put the right date for election; some did not refer to the office in the precise technical manner.

While candidates for office should take the due time and attention to file their papers correctly, the fact that the smallest of details can cause a candidate to be thrown off the ballot is disconcerting. It should not take a team of lawyers to review paperwork ensuring proper stapling to get normal people on the ballot. The voters are perfectly capable of determining which candidates are worthy of office, there doesn’t need to be hurdles placed by the election commission to trap people for innocent oversights (not to be confused with patent stupidity).

Ballot access should be relatively easy and without undue burdens for those who don’t wish to affiliate with a party. Democracy is best suited when there is the widest array of choice possible. Voters are capable of figuring out the rest.

Full Disclosure: I am pursuing candidacy for the Champaign Unit 4 school board. (Filing date: Jan. 29-Feb. 5, 2007).

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About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.