Running for Political Office in Illinois?
by David A. Zipp, JD, MA Attorney at Law
& Eron McCormick, JD, Attorney at Law
Thinking of running for office in Illinois? Most candidates focus on ordering campaign signs, political platforms, meeting folks and their desire to serve the public trust. Illinois has the dubious distinction of having more levels of government, than any other state in the union. There also is sadly more than a grain of negative truth to what is called “Chicago Style Politics.” All of this should be digested by any potential candidate for an Illinois elected post as there are real barriers to just being listed on the ballot.
You might want to consider a consult an attorney who has some experience in the political realm. If nothing else, any candidate should read the latest Candidate Guide (2014’s can be found here):
It is unfortunate that society has become so litigious, but due to the way our political culture and legal system is your best ammunition against a future challenge is arming yourself with legal advice before you throw your name in the ring. Will you likely have to pay for legal advice? Yes, you will most likely. Attorneys only have their time, knowledge, and advice to sell. So while legal fees may seem like a lot of money, also keep in mind that the time you are charged for is an investment in yourself, your family, and your community. Illinois is the Land of Lincoln and ol’ Honest Abe said it best: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock and trade.”
Attorney Eron McCormick recently represented a client who decided he wanted to do some good for his community located in far eastern Lake County. He is a really nice guy, well educated, kind, has a great family, cares about others, and genuinely has thrown his hat in the ring to make his community a better place. But, the problem is that he did not consult an attorney before running for office or circulating his nominating petitions. Under Illinois law there is no requirement that one must consult an attorney before running for office or to run for public office.
Remember that when you run for office there will be incumbents or others running that have someone backing them, and they may be able to get you out of the race before your name ever gets on the ballot. Illinois is not unknown for problems with politics, politicians, or the voting process. It’s a good idea before you invest your most precious resource: your time, that you speak to a qualified and licensed attorney who can provide some advice and guidance so that if your paperwork is challenged you have a better chance of surviving an attack at a municipal or state board electoral hearing.
Long story short, waiting to seek out the advice of an attorney before the initial ballot challenge hearing occurred cost this client his opportunity to be listed on the upcoming municipal ballot.
Attorney David Zipp successfully represented two (2) separate candidates at the municipal officer’s electoral board hearing defend and keep those two candidates on the ballot in McHenry County Illinois. These candidates for their local school board had their petitions challenged by another candidate who felt that “WL” was not an appropriate abbreviation for “Wonder Lake.” It did not matter that over 60% of the folks who signed the petition all thought WL stood properly for their town or that every signor of every petition in this case lived in Wonder Lake, or even that “WL” is the common abbreviation utilized by the Circuit Clerk or McHenry County to represent Wonder Lake in the official county computer database. What mattered was that someone challenged and a hearing was triggered.
The newly elected and sworn in Clerk of McHenry County actually ruled against 60% of the signors of the petitions submitted as they had chosen to write “WL” as their city. Thankfully, both the McHenry County State’s Attorney and the Clerk of the Court for 22nd Judicial Circuit of McHenry County, the other two voting members of the review board sided with the people. These clients stayed on the ballot and will have the opportunity to serve if elected.
Madame Clerk of McHenry County gave excellent advice to any candidate running for office in Illinois – if you are running in an area which only has one town, why not save yourself any issue with hometown and fill that in already on your petition. One could even type in the town, “Wonder Lake” and even the local zip code for every appropriate line on a circulated petition. Signors of the petition would then only need to sign their name and list their street address. The big win of course is to remove any grounds for a petition challenge based on using an abbreviation, even one commonly accepted.
A hearing, even before an electoral review board can be an imposing situation. These hearings are quasi-judicial in nature and involve direct testimony and cross-examination of witnesses as well as the submission of evidence and even at times, motions. For the non-lawyer there is a stacked deck against them with little to no hope of winning. There is some chance that the non-lawyer may win but figuring out how to put together the petition for review, supplemental documents, and research all take the skill and knowledge a non-lawyer may not possess.
Returning to Attorney McCormick’s client: what happened to this client? Without giving away identifying information or confidential information, the client circulated petitions for office, gathered more signatures than were required to be on the ballot, and before submitting his paperwork self struck (removed from consideration) those signatures that did not match the voters rolls on file with the county clerk’s office. While circulating his petitions, this client went door to door from a master list of registered voters in his ward and asked every person before they signed if they still lived at this address and were still registered to vote. After being assured that they were registered voters, he would ask if they had already signed another petition and if they said no he would ask if they would sign his. I
Shortly after submitting his paperwork the signatures on his petitions were challenged by another candidate who was an incumbent challenging among other issues that some signors signed were they should have printed and printed where they should have signed. hearing was scheduled by the municipal officer’s electoral board and the board them voted to remove my candidate from the ballot. The client represented himself without the services of advice or an attorney and subsequently lost the initial hearing.
Under Chapter 10 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes, Illinois case law, United States Case Law, published opinions from the Chicago Board of Elections, guidance for the Illinois State Board of Elections, and from learned treaties a signature has many meanings. But at the end of a legal battle — signature will be defined by the person wearing the black robe.
Attorney McCormick served the client in what is basically an appeal. At this hearing, both sides, each represented by competent legal counsel argued that the case law supported their position. Attorney McCormick argued that the signatures on the client’s petitions were indeed valid signatures and the opposing party argued that the signatures that were challenged did not comport with the law’s requirements. After over thirty hard fought minutes (which was preceded by hours of legal research) His Honor rendered his decision. He unfortunately ruled against the client. His Honor found that the client should have prepared better affidavits that listed the signers name with the line number, address, and name or each challenged voter and presented that to the initial municipal officer’s electoral board.
Unfortunately, the client has chosen to represent himself at the municipal electoral board prior to hiring an attorney thus denying him the opportunity to present and prepare the best defense. The Circuit Court in this matter viewed itself as a body of review, not an original finder or fact.
The ruling rendered that cold January morning was not the end for the client. This brave client is now a candidate for your write-in consideration.
The moral of these stores is that arming yourself before battle is the best way to avoid having to defend yourself at an electoral board hearing or subsequent court hearing is to be familiar with the election rules and regulations, exceed the necessary signatures required, and do not use any abbreviation that is not overwhelmingly accepted (remember 60% of the signors of two different Wonder Lake candidates all thought WL was good enough to describe their town), and if a challenge arises, promptly and quickly seek out the services of an attorney. It would be an excellent idea to consult an attorney when putting together your initial petitions as well.
It is wise to consult an attorney before running for office. But, if you decide to go it alone then the following may be of use to you:
- Read the candidates guide from the State Board of Elections cover to cover. View the most recent version here:
- Attend any candidates training seminars in person.
- Get at a minimum 25% cushion of extra signatures above the required number of signatures needed to get your name placed on the ballot. Remember for many local races, this is your one and only contact with the voter and voters who meet the candidate, tend to vote for that candidate!
- Know the name of an attorney who can help you if legal problem arise so that you don’t have to first go looking for an attorney when a problem arises.
- Never place literature or other items in a mail box without it being properly addressed and stamped as you may be violating federal law.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Attorney David Zipp is an elected member of the Gavin District 37 Board of Education and is a candidate for re-election in the upcoming spring 2015 municipal election.
Attorney Zipp and Attorney McCormick can be best reached at the Fox Lake, Illinois office located at 42 E. Grand Ave, Ste. 101, Fox Lake, Illinois 60020 or by phone at 224-225-1360.
Good luck to all of the candidates, present and future!