The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge
Plaintiff Allan Stevo is an independent candidate for Congress who seeks to be placed on the ballot for the Tenth Congressional District in Illinois. He filed suit after the Illinois State Board of Elections rejected his application as not containing enough signatures. Several motions are pending before the Court.
This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, wherein Plaintiff Allan Stevo alleges his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments have been violated. The complaint alleges that Stevo is an Illinois resident who lives outside of Chicago and satisfies the constitutional requirements for election to the United States House of Representatives. The Defendants are Board Members sitting on Illinois's State Board of Elections and are sued in their official capacities.
Stevo alleges that the application of certain provisions of the Illinois Election Code, see 10 ILCS 5/1-1, et seq., violates his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Under Illinois law, in most election years, an independent candidate for congressional office must collect signatures equal in number to 5% of the total number of persons who cast votes in the last general election in the district. See 10 ILCS 5/10-3.
Stevo claims that on June 23, 2008, he submitted over 7200 valid voters' signatures in attempting to qualify for the Tenth Congressional District ballot. Several days later, Stevo's candidacy was challenged by Patrick LeBeau of DesPlaines, Illinois. Stevo alleges that on July 21, 2008, the Defendants concluded that he had not complied with the Illinois requirement that independent candidates for Congressional seats in election years that do not immediately follow the federal census submit signatures equal in number to 5% of the total number of persons who voted in the last general election within the district. See 10 ILCS 5/10-3. The Defendants determined that in order to qualify for the ballot, a candidate was required to file a petition which contained no fewer than 10,285 signatures. They found his petition contained only 6,978 valid signatures.
Stevo notes that the Illinois statute states in part, "For the first election following a redistricting of congressional districts, nomination papers for an independent candidate for congressman shall be signed by at least 5,000 qualified voters of the congressional district." See 10 ILCS 5/10-3. Under that law, therefore, independent candidates who ran for Congress in 1972, 1982, 1992 or 2002, and independent candidates who run in 2012 (assuming the same law is then in place) are only required to gather signatures from 5,000 qualified voters in the congressional district in which they are running. Stevo contends that the 5% rule which in this case would require more than twice as many signatures than the 5,000 required immediately following a federal census is unnecessary, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Stevo claims that the requirement of 10,285 signatures for the 2008 congressional ballot places a severe burden on the First Amendment rights of independent candidates. He contends, moreover, the requirement that only 5,000 signatures are necessary in election years immediately following the federal census proves that the more burdensome requirement is unnecessary, discriminatory and unconstitutional.
In arguing that the Plaintiffs' complaint should be dismissed, the Defendants rely in part on the decision in Libertarian Party of Illinois v. Rednour, 108 F.3d 768 (7th Cir. 1997), wherein the Seventh Circuit held that the state law requirement that a new political party meet the 5% petitioning requirement is constitutional.*fn1 See id. at 776-77. "The Supreme Court has long permitted states to impose various restrictions limiting a candidate's access to the ballot." Id. at 774. Thus, "states have a vital and compelling interest in requiring political parties appearing on the general ballot [to] demonstrate a significant, measurable quantum of community support." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The purpose of allowing such restrictions is to further the state's legitimate interest of "avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election." Id. (quoting Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 442 (1971)).
Stevo claims that Rednour is not relevant, in that Illinois cannot demand 10,000 signatures from independent congressional candidates in the Tenth District in 2008, yet only demand 5,000 signatures, under the same law and from the exact same candidates--in 2002 and 2012. According to Stevo, Illinois can demand 10,000 signatures from all prospective candidates or 5,000 from all. Stevo claims, however, that the State simply cannot apply different standards to candidates running in 2008 than it has previously applied or will apply in the future.
Stevo's Equal Protection argument is based on the fact that his signature submission would have sufficed to qualify him for the congressional ballot in Illinois in years ending in "2," pursuant to the State's decennial redistricting exception. In contending that he is likely to succeed on the merits, Stevo notes that the 5% signature requirement for independent congressional candidates is one of the most severe in the country. While this may be true, the United States Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit have concluded that similar or more restrictive requirements are constitutionally sound. See Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 438 (1971) (determining a requirement that an independent candidate for elective public office submit signatures from 5% of registered voters does not violate the Constitution); see also Rednour, 108 F.3d at 776-77. Thus, Stevo concedes this requirement alone is not by itself unconstitutional.
When the 5% requirement is compared with the 5,000 signatures required immediately following a federal census, Stevo claims that the Illinois law cannot withstand heightened scrutiny. He contends the requirement is not necessary to ...