Editorial: David Orr and ballot access reform

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted12/1/2018 2:00 PM
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  • An official looks over a candidate's nominating petitions. The challenges of candidate petitions will start heating up soon for the local elections.

    An official looks over a candidate's nominating petitions. The challenges of candidate petitions will start heating up soon for the local elections. Daily Herald File Photo

Former Cook County Clerk David Orr, who retired Friday after 28 years in office, did a pretty good job recently of describing the perennial candidate petition challenges that are about to start heating up for the February and April local elections:

"Each day for the next six weeks, we'll hear about who is or isn't going to be on the ballot, who did or did not demonstrate the levels of support by gathering signatures," he said in calling for greater ballot access. "And while the airwaves will be full of talk about the process, they will not be full of candidates talking about safety, health care. policing and the future of our great city and metropolitan area. Chicago, Cook County and Illinois deserve better."

With a mind-numbing 21 candidates filing to run for mayor in Chicago, we suspect few people will be shedding many tears if petition irregularities knock a few of them off the ballot and make for a more decipherable competition.

But if you believe in democratic principles, you should care. And even if you don't invest too much energy in Chicago's politics, you should care that the same obstacles to the ballot face candidates trying to run for office here in the suburbs.

A couple of weeks ago in this space, we pointed out that only 30 percent of the suburban offices on the ballot in the 2017 local elections were contested, and 150 of the suburban races didn't even have enough candidates running to fill all the positions.

When that's the reality, we should be making it easier for candidates to run, not harder.

The presumption that nominating petitions are particularly necessary is dubious to begin with.

As we said on this topic a while back, "The election laws are set up largely to give incumbents and ruling parties every edge. We question why that should be ... The rules on candidate petitions should be few and easy to follow ... 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?"

Orr has proposed three reforms for candidate filing: One, increase process efficiency by allowing digital tablets to be used when circulating petitions; two, lower the number of signatures required to file for office; and three, lengthen the time between filing and Election Day by two weeks to provide ample time for due process in disputes over electoral board rulings.

In our view, these reforms don't go nearly far enough. But they are a start, and we strongly endorse them.

As for Mr. Orr, always the reformer, we're longtime fans. A tip of our hats to him for this good-government idea and as well as so many others. We're going to miss him, but we suspect he'll still find ways to ensure his worthwhile views are heard.

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