Updated: March 2, 2013 7:13AM
Imagine a system of challenging the legality of a candidate for local public office that allows her political foes to rule on whether she can remain on the ballot.
Improbable, even laughable, right? Common sense tells you that there’s no way such a blatant conflict of interest could be allowed to exist.
Welcome to Illinois.
Election law in the Land of Lincoln requires legal challenges to those seeking municipal office or a seat on a school board to be heard by a local election board consisting of three key elected officials.
For example, a town’s electoral board is made up of the mayor, clerk and senior alderman or trustee.
Let’s say you’re seeking a city council seat and someone files a challenge to your candidacy, which can be done for various reasons but usually centers on you not meeting every requirement on your nominating petititions.
The case goes before the town electoral board, where the senior alderman is a council buddy of your opponent, who also happens to be a member of the mayor’s slate. You might get the impression that the proceeding is less than fair, especially when they kick you off the ballot. You’d be right.
Election law allows you to appeal in court the board’s decision to remove you from the ballot. But previous court decisions have found an electoral board member cannot be removed from a case based on personal or political bias. No, we’re not kidding.
We’re not sure exactly how this screwy system came to be, but it has existed for decades and survived periodic attempts in the Legislature to change the law. More strange, it
applies only to town offices or school boards — candidates for park, library and fire district boards go before the county electoral board, where such obvious conflicts are much less likely.
The law needs to be changed to place candidacy challenges for town and school board candidates also under the county board. While it could still be subject to bias, that procedure would be more fair and might even have a side benefit of discouraging flimsy challenges.