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posted: 3/31/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Liberty values candidacies, it does not block them

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Just to be clear, we start from this premise:

Ideally, anyone who wants to run for elective office should be allowed to do so, and the state should not put obstacles in the way.

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Why, one might ask, should anyone be required to gather nominating signatures in the first place, much less organize the petitions, staple the pages, avoid typos, swear to their accuracy and get it all sealed by notaries public?

If you want to run for, say, the school board, why can't you just produce an ID and put your name and address down on a signup sheet?

All that said, we understand we don't live in a utopia. We realize there's a reason for a few rules. It doesn't make sense for a 5-year-old to run for office. It's debatable whether a felon ought to be able to do so. We don't take issue with society arriving at some common-sense limitations in those areas.

As far as nominating petitions are concerned, we agree that political parties ought to be able to set reasonable rules for their nominating processes. Winners of those primaries are, in actuality, representatives of the parties, not of the people.

But in nonpartisan races, which most local races thankfully are, we can think of only one rationale for nominating petitions.

You wouldn't want it to be so easy to run for office that you might have a chaotic free-for-all of, say, 300 people running cavalierly for mayor.

We get that.

So we acknowledge the need for some simple rules.

But the key word there is simple.

You shouldn't have to earn a degree in petition passing to get on the ballot. The system shouldn't favor candidates with experience. A candidate shouldn't be expected to generate the money for legal fees to defend his or her petitions through the courts. And officials with a stake in the outcome, or who are friends or relatives of officials with a stake in the outcome, ought not be in a position to rule candidates off the ballot.

In Friday's print editions, we published a story by Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Josh Stockinger about the zeal Roselle Trustee Kory Atkinson has for challenging candidacy petitions. Atkinson maintains he does so as a champion of democracy. We argue that his challenges do not further democracy; they limit it. They further archaic rules that for the most part benefit the powers that be, that for the most part benefit incumbency that already has plenty of other benefits.

The findings of a provocative expose last Sunday by Chicago Tribune reporters Joseph Ryan and Joe Mahr arrived at similar conclusions. Their report noted that 76 candidates have been knocked off the ballots in 36 suburbs this spring, mostly for innocuous reasons, usually by challenges that had political motives.

It's time for the General Assembly to take this on. The rules need to change.

The process of getting on the ballot needs to be much simpler. The process of knocking someone off the ballot needs to be much more difficult.

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