With former Police Board president Lori Lightfoot now in the mayoral race (the Sun-Times‘s Fran Spielman has a shrewd assessment of her candidacy here), it’s going to be harder than ever—and it’s always hard—for mayoral candidates to get the nominating signatures they need to qualify for the ballot.
There are nine of them—that’s right, count ’em, nine. Who knows—maybe each candidate will successfully challenge each other’s nominating petitions and we’ll wind up with no candidates.
It probably wouldn’t be worse than Rahm’s first term.
As I’ve written before, getting on the ballot is easier said than done. A candidate’s nominating petitions are subject to challenge in a rigorous process that’s overseen by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
It takes 12,500 signatures to get on the mayoral ballot—and not just any old signature will do. They must be valid signatures that can withstand the careful scrutiny they’re all but certain to get.
For instance, petition signers must actually live where they say they live. And the signatures on the nominating petitions must resemble the ones on file with the elections board.
And you can only sign for one mayoral candidate. So if you sign for two, the second signature is invalid.
The rule of thumb is that candidates actually need two or even three times the number of required signatures to stave off a challenge. For mayor, that means at least 25,000 signatures.
In the old days, elected officials could force their employees to gather the signatures. But anti-patronage judicial rulings have liberated city workers from having to toil in the political fields.
So now a candidate needs a big family, lots and lots of friends, and/or a deep purse—enough money to pay people to gather signatures for them.
The going rate runs from $1 to $2 a signature—more than that as the filing deadline nears.
Candidates may have to spend thousands just to get on the ballot. And that’s before they hire an election lawyer to scrutinize their petitions and handle potential challenges.
If one candidate successfully challenges enough of another candidate’s nominating-petition signatures—poof, the challenged candidate gets knocked off the ballot.
There are lawyers who make a living challenging candidates or defending candidates who have been challenged—or both.
Mayor Rahm’s election lawyer is the legendary Michael Kasper, who bounces out of bed each morning reciting obscure passages of the city’s election code the way other people begin their day with yoga stretches.
Just kidding—I think.
As I said, at the moment, nine candidates have announced their intentions to run. As a test of my mental acuity, I will recite them from memory. Here we go . . .
Computer techie Neal Sales-Griffin; former Chicago Police Department superintendent Garry McCarthy; former schools CEO Paul Vallas; businessman Willie Wilson; Chicago Principals & Administrators Association president Troy LaRaviere; 22-year-old entrepreneur and activist Ja’mal Green; Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown, and Lightfoot.
Phew—I did it. Not senile yet!
Oh, wait. There’s Rahm. How could I forget Rahm? Sorry, Mr. Mayor.
Cook County commissioner Bridget Gainer is also talking about running, as is city treasurer Kurt Summers.
If all these people run, they’re going to be looking to gather up to 300,000 nominating-petition signatures between them. That’s a third of the registered voters in Chicago.
You know, if this keeps up, we may not have enough voters to accommodate all the nominating-petition requirements of the candidates who want to be our mayor.
You’re probably wondering why we require so many signatures to make the ballot. Good question. And the answer is . . .
There is no good reason—other than it gives incumbents another advantage. And, come to think of it, that’s not a good reason at all.
Mayoral candidates used to need 25,000 signatures to make the ballot. The state halved that number in 2005. So look on the bright side—as bad as things are, they could be worse.
My old friend, Adolfo Mondragon, an election lawyer, suggests we try something a little more practical—like replacing the stringent petition requirements with a nominal filing fee. Maybe $25.
Let’s give it a try. It’s never too late to have a real democracy.