SPRINGFIELD — A federal judge is expected to rule Thursday on whether David Gill should appear on the Nov. 8 ballot as an independent candidate in the 13th Congressional District despite not having enough signatures on his nominating petitions.
Gill, a Bloomington physician who’s previously run for Congress as a Democrat, sued the Illinois State Board of Elections earlier this month in a challenge to the state’s signature requirement for independent congressional candidates. The federal lawsuit argues the requirement is unconstitutional because it’s out of line with the requirements for major party candidates and for independents seeking other offices.
With the elections board facing a Friday deadline to certify the ballot, U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough said she would issue a written ruling by Thursday afternoon on Gill’s request that board be ordered to allow his name on the ballot.
Gill had to collect 10,754 signatures, nearly 15 times more than Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Democratic challenger Mark Wicklund of Decatur, who each had to collect fewer than 740. By comparison, independent U.S. Senate candidates only have to collect five times as many signatures as their major-party opponents.
Working with 18 volunteers, Gill collected 8,593 valid signatures.
Sam Cahnman, the Springfield attorney representing Gill, said the candidate made a “herculean effort” in attempting to gather the needed signatures in the 90 days allowed under state law. The task was made even more difficult by the geography of the sparsely populated 13th District, which stretches from Champaign County to the Mississippi River and includes parts Bloomington-Normal, Decatur and Springfield.
During a hearing Wednesday, Cahnman argued the state has no compelling reason to keep Gill off the ballot. He noted candidates frequently appear on the ballot and receive votes despite not having collected nearly enough signatures — or, in at least one case, without having collected any — because no one challenges their nominating petitions at the elections board.
Gill faces removal from the ballot because Wicklund and former Macon County Republican Party Chairman Jerry Stocks challenged his signatures.
Cahnman also argued that the 90-day requirement, which the General Assembly approved in 1983, amounts to nothing more than an “incumbent-protection law.”
He cited remarks that the sponsor, then-state Rep. Harry Yourell, made on the House floor before the vote.
“I’m trying to protect all of the members of the House who are down here doing the people’s business while somebody is back in your district circulating petitions, and if he has enough time, there won’t be any petitions left for you to circulate or to sign,” Yourell said, according to House transcripts.
Myerscough read those words back to Assistant Attorney General Sarah Newman, who’s representing the state in the case, after Newman said it was the Legislature’s place to set requirements for ballot access.
“That doesn’t fill my heart with gladness to read that statement,” Newman said.
But the state needs to set clear rules to prevent overcrowding of the ballot and potential voter confusion, she said, noting that both the 90-day window and similar signature requirements have been upheld in previous cases.
Newman argued that granting Gill’s request for an order that his name appear on the ballot would “essentially determine the outcome of the entire case” before all the facts have been heard.
She also said Gill’s request came “at the 11th hour.”
“We are at 11:59 here,” Newman said.
Regardless of the outcome, Gill said he’s pleased that he and the people of the 13th District had their day in court.
If nothing else, he said, the case has helped shed light on how difficult it is for independent candidates to get on the ballot, which is counter to what the framers of the Constitution intended.
“They wanted it to be the people’s House when they set it up,” Gill said.