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Slated candidates get win after Pritzker-signed election law deemed unconstitutional

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(The Center Square) – A Sangamon County Circuit Court judge made a temporary injunction permanent, finding that enforcing a recently signed law that eliminates “slating” for General Assembly races in the 2024 election is unconstitutional.

Last month, the Illinois General Assembly gutted and replaced a child welfare bill with changes to election law. They prohibited the slating of candidates for the November general election ballot if that candidate did not run in the March primary. Within three days of the idea surfacing and passing both chambers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker enacted the measure.

Some candidates looking for ballot access in November didn’t run in the primary for their district. Leslie Collazo, seeking to take on incumbent state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said she didn’t realize there wasn’t a Republican running the in primary until it was too late. When Pritzker enacted the law while she was preparing to file her petitions to be slated, she said she felt “cheated.”

Candidates then sued and a Sangamon County judge issued a preliminary injunction pending final judgement. A hearing in the case was held Monday, the same day candidates had as a deadline to file petitions to be slated for the November ballot. Wednesday, final judgement was issued for the plaintiffs.

“The General Assembly could make the revisions effective for the next election, rather than in the midst of the current election,” said Judge Gail Noll. “Everyone would then be on notice that, in General Assembly races, when there was no candidate for the nomination of the party in the primary, no candidate of that party for that office can be listed on the ballot at the general election.”

Noll further said: “The revisions to [state law] are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs in the November 2024 general election because the application of the amendment to Plaintiffs during the 2024 election cycle impermissibly burdens their right to vote and to have their names placed on the November ballot.”

The Liberty Justice Center’s Jeffery Schwab, who took on Collazo’s and other Illinois candidates’ case, said the ruling allows the plaintiffs to seek ballot access under the rules that were in place when the election cycle began. Schwab said theoretically, the plaintiffs’ opposition could object on the basis of the law.

“But the Illinois State Board of Elections could not uphold any kind of objection based on this act at least for the plaintiffs for the 2024 election,” said Schwab. “The judge issued a declaratory release saying that the act of preventing the plaintiffs in the 2024 election from getting on the ballot is unconstitutional. Although it doesn’t necessarily apply to other people other than the ISBE and their members, that effectively should prevent other election boards or other government actors from using the act to deny plaintiffs access to the ballot.”

ISBE told The Center Square last month it would uphold any court order pertaining to the recently enacted law. Wednesday, ISBE spokesman Matt Dietrich said the board took no position in the lawsuit, so there will be no appeal from them.

Collazo said the judge’s decision will give Illinoisans more choices on the 2024 ballot. The legislature and Pritzker should be held accountable for enacting the law that has now been halted from being enforced for being unconstitutional, she said.

“For this bill to have been passed so hastily where those that would be affected were not even made aware that this bill was in the works, I feel just lacks the transparency that we need in our state government,” said Collazo. “I want to bring transparency and hold those accountable. If we have the power and authority to hold the legislature and even our governor accountable, why not?”

Collazo said although Democrats say this bill was an “election ethics bill,” Illinois citizens aren’t stupid and the timing is evidence the bill wasn’t about ethics.

The law was coined as an “ethics” bill by the governor and by chairman of the House Ethics and Elections Committee, state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, but the bill wasn’t debated in his committee.

“Elected officials assume that ordinary citizens are dumb or that we lack common sense. It’s insulting to us because we are intelligent,” she said. “We see clearly what’s happening … and although they may say this was done in the spirit of ethics, the timing of it speaks louder than their claims.”

Schwab explained at least now, in future elections, candidates are aware they have to run in the primary in order to gain ballot access. Schwab explained that the ruling applies to plaintiffs and should apply to other slated candidates for the Illinois General Assembly running in the 2024 election because the judge deemed the action of denying the plaintiffs ballot access was unconstitutional.

“It might not be a terrible thing that they are getting rid of the slating process in the future for future elections, but you certainly can’t get rid of it in the middle of this election once candidates have relied on it,” said Schwab.

There are 78 active statehouse races affected by the new law.

Schwab said, historically, former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, used and abused slating to run Democrats against weaker Republicans. Schwab said changing election rules in the middle of the game looks like an attempt to “rig” the election.

“Why would they make this go in effect immediately instead of in the future unless they wanted the benefit of not having candidates run against them in these 14 elections?” asked Schwab.

Greg Bishop contributed to this report.

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