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State Politics Wed Dec 03 2014

Madigan Moves to Eliminate Slating, Burn Republicans

In an unexpected, under-the-radar move, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan has taken action to eliminate the long-standing practice of slating in Illinois.

The word "slating" has a lot of meanings in Illinois politics, but the practice described here is the one whereby an established political party can fill a vacancy in nomination after a primary election for which no candidate filed.

This appears to be the latest in a long series of moves over time to help ensure that incumbents -- especially incumbent state legislators -- need not face any opposition on the general election ballot.

IL Senate Bill 172Senate Bill 172 would completely eliminate a practice that the General Assembly had already gutted in recent years. SB172 is actually a shell bill, a favorite tactic of Madigan's which is often used to introduce long, confusing omnibus bills -- usually at the end of the spring session or during the veto session -- and get them passed without the general public even knowing about the provisions. For that matter, most of the legislators don't know about all of the provisions either.

Before 2009, slating was a very common practice, and was fairly easy. If in a given partisan race no candidate filed for a given party's primary, then a vacancy in nomination was declared, and a relevant committee of the party would be able to meet and nominate a candidate. For example, if in a race for state representative in Chicago no Republicans had filed in the primary, a small group of Republican ward committeemen would be allowed to meet and nominate a candidate, and then that would be the Republican candidate on the November general election ballot. The practice was very common, and usually involved Republicans slating candidates in Cook County, and Democrats slating candidates downstate.

The Green Party blew everything up in 2008. By virtue of Rich Whitney receiving 10 percent of the vote for governor in 2006, the Green Party was "established" just like the Democrats and Republicans for the 2008 elections. In turn, numerous Greens were slated for congressional and legislative races. (Disclosure: I was the primary architect of identifying and slating numerous Green candidates that year, and sat in on most of the formal committee meetings which affected those nominations.)

The Democrats were not pleased, and so in 2009, the General Assembly passed House Bill 723. HB723 did not eliminate slating directly, but did slap on a requirement that a slated candidate would need to gather as many signatures as he or she would have needed to have appeared on the primary ballot in the first place. While this does not sound onerous, the reality is that a Republican candidate for state representative on the South Side of Chicago has little chance of collecting 500 valid signatures in the first place. The 500 signature threshold was itself a Madigan creation, when the General Assembly passed SB955 in 2004.

In turn, SB172 takes it all a step father and simply eliminates slating outright, even though, with the signature requirement added, the practice is used much less than before. Only eight legislative candidates qualified via the slating method -- six Republicans and two Democrats. In addition, Vince Kolber was slated as a Republican candidate for 5th US Congressional District. This follows a more recent trend of Republicans using the slating mechanism more often than the Democrats. It therefore stands to reason that if Democrats are the ones seeking to eliminate it, it is because the already woeful level of competition is still more than they care to deal with.

Even with the eight slated legislative candidates, a whopping 82 out of 137 legislative races this past November were unopposed -- roughly 60 percent. Eliminate the eight slated candidates and the number would have climbed to 73 percent. When the system keeps making it harder and harder for candidates to get on the ballot at all -- and when manipulated campaign finance laws and excessive gerrymandering make it extremely difficult to compete even if you can make it onto the ballot -- nobody can seriously claim we have a functioning democracy.

The elimination of slating is not the only other under-the-radar provision of SB172. Additional changes would impact the way in which certain challenges to nominations are conducted -- and the clear targets are Republicans, especially in DuPage County.

Earlier this week I wrote about how the challenge process works in Chicago. It's much the same if you're running for state legislature or Congress, but depending on where you're running, different election boards may be the ones ruling on the challenges.

Under current law, if a particular district is entirely within Chicago, the matter goes to the Chicago Officers Electoral Board. If it is entirely within Cook County, but not entirely within Chicago, it goes to the Cook County Officers Electoral Board. These situations would not change.

Currently, if the district is entirely within some other county, it would be heard by the equivalent County Officers Electoral Board for that county. SB172 would change that, and cause the challenge to be sent to the State Officers Electoral Board instead. Also currently, if the district is partially within two or more counties, it automatically goes to the state board.

Under the provisions of SB172, though, if even only a small part of the district is within Cook County, the challenge would go to the Cook County Officers Electoral Board rather than the state board.

The State Officers Electoral Board, by statute, consists of four Democrats and four Republicans. The Cook County Officers Electoral Board is entirely controlled by Democrats. Similarly, the DuPage County Officers Electoral Board is entirely controlled by Republicans. DuPage, being the second largest county, is one of the few counties which wholly contains multiple legislative districts. (Lake, Will and Winnebago do as well.)

The flow isn't hard to calculate: move as many electoral board rulings as possible away from Republicans and toward Democrats.

If SB172 does get broader attention, it likely won't be because of slating or challenge jurisdiction. The bulk of the new and changed language in SB172 deals with the expansion and better administration of absentee voting (formally renamed as mail-in voting throughout the changes), and making same-day voter registration permanent in Illinois. It is also a common tactic with omnibus election bills to assert that they're making positive changes which expand voter rights, and to simply not mention or completely gloss over the changes explicitly designed to restrict voter choice. Look at the way SB172 is portrayed on Capitol Fax, without even a mention of the slating or challenge jurisdiction provisions.

Almost certainly, Madigan will get away with it. He usually does. Even a "reformer" like Pat Quinn with seemingly nothing to lose on his way out the door will probably try to embrace and even take credit for the voting by mail and same-day registration provisions. While these are arguably worthy provisions, they don't overcome the reality that Quinn's record on election reform has been awful. One of the things that encourages people to vote is when some of the higher races on the ballot are actually contested, and Quinn has rolled over for everything Madigan has put forward to eliminate voter choice.

Even with Bruce Rauner about to take over as governor -- ostensibly meaning the Republicans should be on the way up in Illinois -- expect to see even fewer contested races in 2016 and beyond. SB172 is just another small example, and maybe even an early warning shot to Rauner, about who actually runs the state.

The overall point is not that the Republicans are the victims here, but rather that the voters are. The General Assembly at this point is almost completely unaccountable, with little actual reason to bother listening to what voters have to say. Incumbents can last for decades, sometimes without any opposition in either the primary or general election. That the people running the state are nominal Democrats is largely irrelevant, because there's no actual political philosophy driving them. They're simply there to cash in.

Expect to see SB172 pass, and for Democrats to take credit for making it easier than ever for people to vote in elections where they literally have only one choice.

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Richard Winger / December 3, 2014 3:19 PM

This is good journalism. Thanks for running this story.

Christopher Sweet / December 6, 2014 11:10 AM

Right on target. However, as in many things, there is also a pretty good argument for eliminating slating.

Illinois has a bad history of cultists and nut-jobs getting on the ballot by slating. It's a way of circumventing the (admittedly poor) methods we have of "credentialing" candidates.

I was alive and thinking back in the day when Lyndon LaRouche almost took over the state. That shouldn't be allowed to happen. A better educated electorate, an electorate less inclined to mental illness, IMHO, would have prevented his rise.

And then the Green candidates - were they Green, really? And what does that mean?

The requirement for candidates to be members of a successful party and to present valid signatures is a poor way of requiring "references."

But from past history, we need some kind of system to pre-board candidates.

The Illinois House used to have a three-vote bullet system, where each district had three Reps. You voted all three of your votes for one, or you divided it any way you wanted.

This system didn't last long.

It was killed by Pat Quinn and the League of Women Voters on a "save money" excuse.

I liked it, however, because it allowed minority and oddball candidates to be elected legitimately, if and only if they could muster enough bullet voters.

But that's a dead letter.

I'm not saying I agree with these arguments. I have not made up my mind yet.

But with Illinois' history of insane people getting on the ballot without being pre-screened, it may be necessary.

Because we live in a fish tank of internet "information," not knowledge.

Leroy / December 17, 2014 7:14 PM

" nobody can seriously claim we have a functioning democracy."

This claim is unreasonably alarmist, and detracts from this story's seriousness.

Please take off the tin foil hat.

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