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posted: 1/13/2014 7:59 AM

Editorial: An election system set up to help incumbents

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield got a pass in the Democratic primary in the 10th Congressional District Thursday when Arlene Hickory of Lake Bluff got knocked off the ballot. The Illinois State Board of Elections disallowed dozens of signatures on her candidate petitions.

Larry Kaifesh, a Republican from Carpentersville hoping to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, wasn't so lucky when the board ruled that Manju Goel of Aurora can remain on the GOP primary ballot against him in the 8th Congressional District even though a notary public had used a stamp rather than a signature to attest to scores of signatures on her candidate petitions.

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In the end, the Hickory ruling probably doesn't matter to the outcome of the 10th District primary. Schneider, finishing his first term, would have been the odds-on favorite against Hickory, a relative unknown who was handily defeated in a race for the Lake County Board two years ago.

Still, it helps him to marshal his reserves for what is expected to be a nationally spotlighted rematch in the fall with former U.S. Rep. Bob Dold of Kenilworth.

In the Goel case, the ruling is not so insignificant. She has what appears to be a committed base and so the contest with Kaifesh, a veteran U.S. Marine Corps colonel, looks like it could be one of the most interesting races in the suburbs. Both have shown strong early fundraising efforts.

There's no question that the district leans Democratic and that Duckworth will be a formidable opponent for either of them in November, but they're serious candidates and it's too early to concede the general election to her.

We don't pretend to be the expert that the election board is on the challenges over the candidate petitions.

But isn't it interesting in these two cases that the real winners were Schneider and Duckworth, the two powerful incumbents?

Schneider doesn't have to fritter away his money, time and good name on Hickory before the main event against Dold. Duckworth will get a general election opponent who has had to weaken his or her campaign funds by spending a good chunk of them in the primary.

That's no small irony and, we suspect, no small coincidence. The election laws are set up largely to give incumbents and ruling parties every edge.

We question why that should be.

As we've said in this space before, the rules on candidate petitions should be few and easy to follow.

We should be encouraging more people to run for office, not fewer. Isn't that the point in a democracy?

Every election, we all decry the lower voter turnout. But if our laws discourage engagement with the democracy, if they make it hard to get on the ballot rather than simple, if they build in advantages for incumbents, how can we be surprised that nobody votes?

Of course, that may be what the rule makers prefer.

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