Judge amends earlier ruling, giving elections officials more time to ready ballots

SPRINGFIELD — Third-party candidates will have a little less extra time to get petition signatures this election cycle after a federal judge amended her earlier order last week.

Rebecca Pallmeyer, chief judge of the Northern District Federal Court, in April had extended the deadline for third-party candidates to get the required signatures to be on the Nov. 3 ballot from June 22 to Aug. 7. She also cut the number of signatures required by 90 percent.

But two weeks later, the Illinois State Board of Elections asked Pallmeyer to make the deadline earlier to give election officials enough time to have ballots ready.

On Friday, Pallmeyer reset the deadline to July 20. The elections board had asked it to be moved back to July 6. The previous order’s allowances of fewer signatures and collecting signatures electronically remain in place.

The Illinois Libertarian and Green parties filed suit initially to have requirements loosened because, they said, Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions made meeting ballot eligibility requirements “practically impossible.”

After Pallmeyer’s April ruling, the elections board’s attorney argued in a court document that the lowered threshold of registered voters’ signatures “threatens” the election by potentially including “a slew of non-serious candidates” on the November ballot.

And the 46-day deadline extension would make it difficult for state officials to finalize candidates in enough time to allow Illinois’ 105 election authorities to print and mail ballots, Michael Kasper, the board’s representative, added.

Attorneys for the Libertarian and Green parties as well as an independent candidate told Pallmeyer in a hearing Friday that their clients “diligently attempted to comply” with her first order and any change could make an already challenging process more difficult.

The Libertarians began developing an online portal to gather electronic signatures from voters, Oliver Hall, the parties’ attorney and founder of the Center for Competitive Democracy, said.

“I don’t think that there’s any clear way to address all of the concerns that have been generated by this public health emergency…,” the judge said, according to a transcription. “I’m no Solomon here. We don’t always get it exactly right.”

She changed the petition submission due date because of the “burden” on the board of elections and local elections authorities to certify and print ballots, especially in a cycle when “there’s going to be a lot more mail voting,” according to a court transcription.

And Pallmeyer denied the elections board’s request to raise the signatures required to 25 percent of the number prescribed by the elections code and its request to allow officials to establish their own “appropriate ballot access requirements.”

The elections board argued her ruling should consider “the interest of the voters who are going to get incomplete or inaccurate ballots mailed to them if all the steps that the board has taken to finalize the ballot are not completed before they start mailing the ballot,” Kasper said Friday, according to a transcription.

Developing that suitable solution could take too much time, the judge said.

“I think getting an answer is better than waiting for the perfect answer,” Pallmeyer said.

A spokesperson for the board said in a statement officials were “concerned” the later deadline “would not allow enough time for any objections.” He did not specifically address officials’ position on the judge’s revised order.

The spokesperson did not say when officials will amend the 2020 Candidate’s Guide to alert those running for office of the changes.

In an emailed statement, Hall said Pallmeyer did “an excellent job” balancing both sides’ interests.

“While we believe the (elections board) could and should have adhered to the August 7 deadline, we understand that Judge Pallmeyer had legitimate concerns with the impact of that deadline on the (board’s) ability to print ballots on time,” he said. “But for candidates who must collect more than 1,000 signatures before the new deadline of July 20, the difficulty of doing so via email and other electronic procedures remains a heavy burden.”

He added Libertarians and Greens are “working hard” to meet the threshold.

Sam Cahnman, an attorney representing an independent candidate, said in a statement his client is “pleased” Pallmeyer did not “nearly triple” the signature requirement from her previous ruling as the board asked.

“While we were disappointed the signature collection period was shortened from the prior order, we are happy the court also rejected the board’s request for an even earlier July 6th deadline, as gathering signatures even with the relief granted is still extremely difficult right now,” he added.