Rebecca Pallmeyer
Rebecca Pallmeyer

Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer has revised her decision relaxing the filing deadlines for third-party candidates during the COVID-19 pandemic, setting the new date to July 20.

Her April 23 order set the deadline for filing completed petitions with Illinois election authorities to Aug. 7. Under normal circumstances, the deadline is June 22.

The new order preserves the provision in her April 23 ruling that allows candidates who do not belong to established political parties to obtain 10% of the number of signatures the law requires for their petitions and to collect those signatures electronically.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m no Solomon here. We don’t always get it exactly right,” Pallmeyer said before issuing the order Friday. “I think getting an answer is better than waiting for the perfect answer, and that’s why I’m going to enter an order today that grants some of the relief that’s been requested but not all of it.”

Pallmeyer’s rulings loosened the petition rules at the request of the Libertarian Party of Illinois and the Illinois Green Party as well as several party officials and independent and party candidates, which argued Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders made the petition standards harder to meet.

Her rulings allow candidates who ran on the Libertarian or Green tickets in the 2016 or 2018 general elections to be placed on the ballot without filing nominating petitions. They only apply to independent and third party, or new party, candidates and only in this year’s general election.

After last month’s order, the state moved for reconsideration.

Michael J. Kasper of Kasper & Nottage P.C., representing the State Board of Elections, argued at Friday’s hearing that an Aug. 7 deadline wouldn’t give officials enough time to handle petition challenges and certifying, printing and mailing of ballots before the November election.

Kasper also argued a signature collection requirement at 25% the normal benchmark would be a better measure of support for a candidate, rather than 10%.

“I think that the combination of the extended filing and the greatly reduced signature requirement will lead to an influx of candidates and, therefore, an influx of litigation and, therefore, an influx of delay in getting these ballots finalized,” Kasper said, according to court documents.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Oliver B. Hall, of the Center for Competitive Democracy in Washington, D.C., contended that although third-party candidates were appreciative of the reduced signature requirements, they were unsure about the success of gathering signatures electronically.

“It’s not one that the plaintiffs had any opportunity to prepare to implement, much less to notify their potential supporters that they would be reaching out online effectively by email,” Hall said. “It’s a completely untested procedure.”

Pallmeyer acknowledged there are “real difficulties on both sides,” and admitted there is no obvious solution.

“I don’t think that there’s any clear way to address all of the concerns that have been generated by this public health emergency but I think really impinge on both sides significantly,” she said. “I just don’t think there’s any way to resolve this in a way that’s truly fair to both sides.”

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit on April 2, maintaining the restrictions to ballot access they face violate the equal protection clause and the First Amendment right to associate.

They asked that certain Election Code requirements be eliminated or modified because of the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Pallmeyer’s preliminary injunction stated that the March 20 order left independent and third-party candidates facing a “nearly insurmountable hurdle” as they try to get on the ballot.

She also authorized candidates to submit photocopies of their petitions and lifted the rule that circulators include a notarized statement at the bottom of each sheet indicating when the sheet was circulated and certifying the signatures are genuine.

Samuel J. Cahnman, a Springfield attorney representing Kyle K. Kopitke, who wants to run for president as an independent, intervened in the case on April 17.

Cahnman said he was pleased that Pallmeyer rejected the Board of Elections’ request to increase the signature requirement.

“On the filing deadline, while we are disappointed the signature collection period was shortened from the prior order, we are happy the [c]ourt also rejected the [b]oard’s request for an even earlier July 6th deadline, as getting signatures even with the relief granted is still extremely difficult right now,” Cahnman said in a statement. “The relief in this case should now be extended to referendum petitioners, as they suffer from the same restrictions as those collecting candidate signatures.”

The plaintiffs are also represented by sole practitioner Scott K. Summers of Harvard, Ill., and Mark R. Brown of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio.

The lead attorneys for the state are Illinois Assistant Attorney General David W. Van de Burgt and Gary S. Caplan and Leigh J. Richie, both counsels with the Office of the Governor.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office could not be reached for comment.

This case is Libertarian Party of Illinois, et al. v. J.B. Pritzker, et al., No. 20 C 2112.