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  • Writer's pictureOliver Hall

Land of the Free?

Suppose you wanted to run for office, but you weren't exactly thrilled with the Republican or Democratic parties.

Maybe, like Illinois emergency room doctor David Gill, you wanted to promote a single payer healthcare system, among other issues the major parties won't touch.

So you decided to run for Congress as an Independent.

Now suppose you found out that Illinois has some of the most restrictive ballot access requirements for Independent candidates for U.S. House in the entire nation.

Specifically: Dr. Gill needed to collect 10,754 valid signatures from qualified voters in his district in just 90 days.

For perspective, that's more than 10 times the median requirement imposed by every other state, and more than three times the average requirement of all states nationwide. And Georgia, the only state that imposes a higher requirement, allows candidates six months to collect their signatures -- twice as long as Illinois.

But wait, there's more: No Independent candidate for U.S. House has overcome Illinois's signature requirements since 1974, and the candidate who did so that year had an unlimited time to do it, because the 90-day petitioning period wasn't enacted yet.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, no Independent candidate for U.S. House has qualified since 1964.

Do those sound like reasonable requirements for Independent candidates seeking to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives -- known as the "People's House" -- here in the Land of the Free?

Dr. Gill and his team collected more than 11,000 total signatures, but they were challenged,

After the challenge, he was left with 8,491 valid signatures -- not enough to qualify.

More perspective: even after the challenge, Dr. Gill collected more valid signatures than 99.9 percent of all candidates who ran for U.S. House in more than 25,000 races nationwide since states began regulating ballot access in 1890.

The Supreme Court has held that ballot access restrictions are likely unconstitutional if "reasonably diligent" candidates are unable to comply with them. And they are certainly unconstitutional if they "operate to freeze the political status quo."

Illinois's requirements fail both tests. (So do Georgia's.)

Dr. Gill filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Illinois's requirements. The District Court ruled against him, without holding a hearing, but CCD took up his appeal and won in the Seventh Circuit.

So the case was sent back to the District Court. There, the case languished for more than a year until the District Court ruled against Dr. Gill again -- once again, without holding a hearing.

The District Court concluded that Dr. Gill could have qualified if he had just hired a few more petition circulators.

Maybe so -- that's true in every case -- but if collecting more valid signatures than 99.9 percent of all U.S. House candidates in American history isn't "reasonably diligent," what is?

The District Court didn't say.

CCD is representing Dr. Gill in his second appeal to the Seventh Circuit, and we just filed our opening brief.

It's worth a read if you're interested in finding out what candidates seeking to expand voter choice in the Land of the Free are up against in states like Illinois, Georgia and elsewhere.

CCD is representing Dr. Gill and his co-plaintiffs pro bono. To support CCD's work, please consider making a contribution. CCD is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and all contributions are tax-deductible.

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