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Candidates file lawsuit challenging Illinois’ hastily changed election law

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(The Center Square) – Candidates hopeful to run for the Illinois General Assembly filed a lawsuit alleging violation of constitutional voting rights resulting from recent changes in the rules for slating candidates to fill vacancies.

Leslie Collazo is a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed Friday in Sangamon County Circuit Court. The defendants include officials from the Illinois State Board of Elections and Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

“I think the other side is nervous,” Collazo told The Center Square. “They keep doing these stunts and it’s almost like they’re making these moves to eliminate the power from the people.”

There are 78 active statehouse races affected by the new law. Collazo intends to run against state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, who has been in office since 2007.

The Illinois State Board of Elections will continue to follow the previously established calendar and process, which means they will accept vacancy in nomination filings through June 3. Then they will accept objections to those candidacies from June 3 to June 10.

“Our board will then vote to sustain or overrule the objections, most likely at its July 9 meeting. At that point, it is likely that the losing side will seek judicial review of the board’s decision,” said elections board spokesman Matt Dietrich. “The only thing that would change this process would be a court order enjoining the board of elections from accepting candidate filings or objections.”

State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, said he thinks slating is abused by both political parties.

“In my opinion [passing the new election law] was the right thing to do because it [slating] became abused on both sides. This law has put the power back into the hands of the voters because the desired candidate now has to get their petitions like everyone else and run in the primary or try their hardest to be a write-in candidate,” said West.

Collazo said she didn’t run in the primary because she thought somebody would step up and represent her community. She didn’t expect to do the job because she thought the state government would operate in a way that represents Illinoisans.

“I am just a normal, ordinary citizen and I was hoping someone would step up. When we got past the point for someone to step up [and run in the primary] and we’ve got one person on the ballot, I said, ‘I’m going to do it. I don’t have any confidence that our voices are being heard.’ The slating process allows for communities to be heard,” said Collazo. “I didn’t think I would have to do the job and I expected our government to operate in a way that represents us. But it doesn’t. I am not afraid to take these people on.”

The new law originated as a bill dealing with placing children in suitable permanent family arrangements. Within days, the bill was gutted and replaced with changes to the slating process that candidates like Leslie Collazo were in the middle of. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law after calling it an ethics bill.

“I feel like what this law did was that it completely stopped me in the middle of a process I felt was really important for voters,” said Collazo. “I think this process allowed for people to have another option than the only candidate on a ballot.”

As an alternative to a primary election, Illinois law allowed for a party to get its candidates on the ballot for General Assembly vacancies by the party slating process. The process requires the candidates to get a certain number of public signatures on nominating petitions. Those signatures may be objected to on grounds of the new law, and the state elections board plans to hear those objections and make a ruling despite being sued.

Collazo said the lawsuit goes after the legislature’s process in passing the law but it also says “legislation that affects any stage of the election process implicates the right to vote.”

The Illinois Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every United States citizen of at least 18 years of age who has been a permanent resident of Illinois for at least 30 days preceding any election.

“I feel this law was passed so swiftly, what it does and how it affects voters, I felt like it was necessary to file a lawsuit. Whether it goes somewhere or not, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I know that myself and the others will do everything we can to bring fairness to the people. This law benefits a certain side,” said Collazo.

Plaintiffs Collazo, Daniel Behr, James Kirchner, and Carl Kunz are represented by Liberty Justice Center. They are seeking an emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting defendants, the attorney general and the Illinois State Board of Elections, from enforcing the new law against the plaintiffs and from denying plaintiffs’ nomination petitions for the November 2024 general election based on the new law.

“P.A. 103-0586 removed the provisions of the Illinois Election Code that would allow candidates to access the ballot, after the process for filling vacancies on the ballot had begun,” Jeffrey Schwab, senior counsel at the Liberty Justice Center, said in a statement. “Changing these rules in the middle of the process is a blatant infringement on the fundamental constitutional right to vote, which also protects the right of a candidate to appear on the ballot.

The 2020 election saw the highest voter-turnout rate for any national election since 1900. The 2024 election is expected to have the same major party presidential candidates on the ballot with former Republican President Donald Trump in a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

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