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Summers v. Smart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 21, 2014

SCOTT SUMMERS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JESSE R. SMART, et al., Defendants

Page 557

For Omar N. Lopez, Bobby J. Pritchett, Jr., David F. Black, Illinois Green Party, a voluntary association and political party, Scott Summers, Rita Maniotis, Tim Curtin, Sheldon Schafer, Julie Samuels, Plaintiffs: Christopher Davis Kruger, The Law Offices of Christopher Kruger, Evanston, IL.

For Jesse R. Smart, sued in his official capacity as Chairman, Illinois State Board of Elections, Charles W. Scholz, sued in his official capacity as Vice-Chairman, Illinois State Board of Election, Bryan A. Schneider, sued in his official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, Betty J. Coffrin, sued in her official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, Harold D. Byers, sued in his official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, Cassandra B. Watson, sued in her official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, William M McGuffage, sued in his official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, Ernest L Gowen, sued in his official capacity as member of Illinois State Board of Elections, Rupert T. Borgsmiller, sued in his official capacity as Executive Director, Illinois State Board of Elections, Defendants: Thomas A. Ioppolo, LEAD ATTORNEY, Illinois Attorney General's Office (100 West Randolph), Chicago, IL; Laura Marie Rawski, Office of the Illinois Attorney General, General Law, Chicago, IL.

Page 558

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

John J. Tharp, Jr., United States District Judge.

The plaintiffs, who include the Illinois Green Party, its current slate of prospective statewide candidates, and a supporter, mount as-applied and facial constitutional challenges to various provisions of the Illinois Election Code that threaten to prevent the placement of Green Party candidates on the ballot for the November 4, 2014, statewide election in Illinois. In their action against the members of the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE), the plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the offending requirements and placing their candidates on the ballot or, alternatively, reducing the current requirement of submitting 25,000 valid, notarized voter signatures or extending the time in which to collect them.

Page 559

FACTS

For purposes of satisfying its obligations under Federal Rules 52(a) and 65(d), the Court makes the following findings of fact, which are derived from the parties' pleadings and exhibits and the testimony at the evidentiary hearing. These findings are preliminary in nature and not binding in any proceedings on the merits. See Michigan v. United States Army Corps of Eng'rs, 667 F.3d 765, 782 (7th Cir. 2011).

The Illinois Green Party was founded in 1999 and at one time (2006-2010) was an " established" political party under Illinois law. Having missed the statutory threshold in the last statewide election in 2010, see 10 ILCS 5/10-2, the Green Party is now a " new" party for purposes of the statewide election in November 2014. Illinois election law requires that a " new" party such as the Green Party satisfy certain requirements that do not apply to established parties. One is a mandate that, in order to run any candidate for statewide office, the new party must field a complete slate of candidates for every statewide office. 10 ILCS 5/10-2 ¶ 4. As a new party, the Green Party also had to support its candidates' nominating petitions with a greater number of voter signatures than required for established parties.[1] The minimum number of signatures for a new party in a statewide election this year is 25,000. 10 ILCS 5/10-4. The signatures must be gathered according to strict rules, one of which requires that each " sheet" of signatures contain an extensive certification by the circulator [2] that is witnessed by a notary public. Id. The sheets approved by the ISBE currently permit only 10 signatures per page; thus, in order to secure 25,000 notarized signatures, a party would be required to submit at least 2,500 notarized certifications of its circulators.

This year, the 90-day petitioning period commenced on March 25, 2014, and ran through June 23. The Green Party--with considerable difficulty and contrary to its preference to run only two or three statewide candidates--fielded a full slate of candidates for statewide offices and began collecting signatures when the 90-day period began. It ultimately collected just shy of 30,000 signatures in support of placing the Green Party candidates on the statewide ballot. The Party timely submitted its paperwork to the ISBE on June 23. Shortly thereafter, objector Karen Yarbrough--a Democratic Party official--challenged about 12,000 of those signatures pursuant to Election Code procedure. 10 ILCS 5/10-8.

Among other things, the filing of objections triggers the formation of the State Officers Electoral Board (SOEB) (comprising the ISBE members), which then adopts rules and procedures for resolving

Page 560

the challenges. 10 ILCS 5/10-8, 10-9 ¶ 1. In practice, the SOEB adopts the same challenge resolution procedures each time it is constituted, including its records examination, or " binder check" procedure. SOEB Rules and Procedures, Pl. Ex. 3, Dkt. # 6-3. SOEB staff reviews the signatures line by line and either sustains or overrules each challenge--which might target the voter's registration status or address information, or some deficiency on the petition, such as incomplete information or improper certification by the circulator. The candidates and the objector may have a representative present during the binder check. When the process is complete and fewer than 25,000 valid signatures survive, the candidates have three days in which to submit evidence that rehabilitates the challenged signatures; for example, they might demonstrate that a signatory was a registered voter or lived at the stated address at some point during the 90-day period. In this case, the initial binder check resulted in the loss of about 7,000 signatures from the Party's initial submission; approximately 5,000 of the challenges were overruled.

The review process then proceeds before a hearing officer, who might hold hearings--two were held in this case--and hear motions. The Green Party has not provided any record of the motions and objections it filed before the hearing officer, although its lawyers represented that it did file challenges to the citizen-objector and binder-check processes. In particular, they represented that the Party " did file a motion for forum non conveniens and an objection to the binder check going forward" as well as " what's called a Rule Nine motion to challenge the results that were provided through a spreadsheet" ; further they " raised evidentiary issues [of] hearsay within hearsay, no witness, no foundation, no authentication." The Green Party did not, however, send a representative to observe the binder check, and the Green Party lawyers represented that they did not attempt to rehabilitate any signatures because the SOEB did not provide its tally of sustained and overruled challenges in a useable format. Specifically, " [b]ecause of the failure of the board to provide a line by line computer generated printout of the rulings," the Party maintains that it was unable to issue the appropriate subpoenas in three days, and therefore " [did] not offer any rehabilitation evidence at the evidentiary hearing."

Ultimately, the hearing officer makes a recommendation, and Board adopts a final ruling. Here, the Board is expected to announce its ruling on or before August 22, the last date by which the ballot for the November election must be certified to allow sufficient time for the printing of ballots and absentee voting. Because the Green Party did not rehabilitate any signatures, it stands below the 25,000-signature threshold and will not be on the ballot unless one of its procedural challenges succeeds before the SOEB or this Court grants preliminary injunctive relief.

Procedural Background

On July 15, 2014, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit seeking to invalidate, or alternatively, modify, the portions of the Illinois election code impeding the recognition of Green Party candidates on the ballot. The plaintiffs argue that individually and collectively, certain portions of the Election Code violate the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the complaint challenges the following: (1) the notarization requirement (Count I); (2) the complete-slate requirement ...


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