The filing period to run for statewide office ended Monday and the next political blood sport -- petition challenges -- begins.
While getting on the ballot is one thing, staying there can be the toughest part of a campaign, say experts who consider Illinois' petition-filing rules to be among the most complicated in the nation. Challenging petition signatures to try to push a candidate below the required number is the most common tactic, but simply using a paper clip instead of a staple to attach petitions together can be enough to get a candidate tossed out.
Heavy hitters likely have signatures to spare with I's dotted and T's crossed, but mistakes can happen to both rookie and veteran candidates.
"First-time candidates are most at-risk because they've never done it before," election attorney James Nally said. But hubris can upset experienced politicians who "put everything on autopilot," he added.
Objections must be filed by Dec. 11.
Voters have a full plate of Democrats to pick from for governor in the March 20 primary. State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston, Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, Chicago activist Tio Hardiman, Kenilworth developer Chris Kennedy, Chicago billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, Robert Marshall of Burr Ridge and Terry Getz of Dupo filed as candidates. Long Grove engineer Alexander Paterakis withdrew from the race.
But what makes this election cycle another standout is the Republican challenge facing beleaguered Gov. Bruce Rauner from Wheaton state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who filed her paperwork Monday.
Democratic candidates turned out across the state, with eight running for attorney general to two Republicans. For Congress, four Democrats are running in the 5th District, seven in the 6th District and seven in the 14th District, each of which has one Republican contender.
Nally's legal work has kept candidates on and off the ballot across Chicago and the suburbs over the years.
The "single biggest objection basis is not enough valid signatures," he said. Signatures can be thrown out if people's addresses don't align with their voter registrations, if they don't match digital records or don't live in the district.
And when election boards hear challenges, there's not much leeway for omissions, misspellings and sloppiness.
"There are certain mandatory provisions of the code and you either get it right or you don't," said Nally, adding he's spent the fall advising candidates and checking their petitions. In fact, the first line of Illinois' candidate guide urges them "to obtain legal counsel."
Among suburban candidates who've learned the hard way: Hampshire village president candidate Katherine Basham was removed in January because her paperwork wasn't stapled, a rule intended to prevent pages being added or subtracted after the filing deadline. Aldermanic candidate Donna M. May of West Chicago was tossed in 2011 for mistakenly putting the wrong year on some of her petitions.
Former Elgin Republican state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger won a challenge in 2011, fending off contentions he should be disqualified for voting in a Democratic primary his sister was running in.
"Illinois' election laws are Byzantine" compared to other states, said Rauschenberger, now president of the Technology & Manufacturing Association. He tried to institute changes but General Assembly "leadership is seldom interested in ballot access reform, for obvious reasons."
When people can be jettisoned for using a paper clip and not a staple in their forms it shows "Illinois election code is designed for 'gotcha,'" he noted. "It prevents really good candidates from emerging and makes them dependent on legislative or party leaders."
Nally notes that in most given election cycles, 90 percent of candidates do not face objections. But candidates in hot races should be ready for it.
"If you get into a contested race and know other candidates are vying for the position, you have to assume someone will review your filing."