Candidates running for office in Illinois would be prohibited from using slogans to convey political messages on the ballot under legislation passed over the weekend in the Illinois General Assembly, Cook County Clerk David Orr said.
The measure, which is included in the state’s comprehensive election reform package and backed by Orr, comes in response to two suburban candidates who incorporated political slogans as part of their names on the November 2002 general election ballot.
"Political candidates should not be allowed to use the ballot as a billboard," said Orr, who is now looking forward to Gov. Rod Blagojevich signing the measure into law. "It’s blatant electioneering and has no place in the voting booth. The purpose of the ballot is to elect candidates, not express political views."
Orr also fears that allowing candidates to use such slogans would open the door for other candidates to use the ballot as a vehicle to mislead voters or convey messages of hate or bigotry by using scurrilous names or inflammatory language.
Les "Cut the Taxes" Golden, a Republican candidate in the 79th Illinois House District, and Stephanie "Vs. the Machine" Sailor, a Libertarian candidate in the 9th Congressional District, both ran for office last November. Each candidate was slated by their respective political party to fill vacancies after no candidate ran for the party nomination in the March primary. This procedure was done quietly without fanfare, giving the public little opportunity to lodge objections to the political phrases that would appear on the ballot.
As chief election authority in Cook County, Orr allowed both candidates to remain on the ballot but sought to remove the slogans before the ballots were printed. Although a Circuit Court judge agreed with previous court rulings that political slogans had no place on the ballot, he ruled that county clerks lacked the legal authority to remove the slogans.
"The courts have made it clear that these ballot slogan names are improper and illegal based on the way that these candidates intend to use them," Orr said. "This law now codifies the case law into statutory law and provides a mechanism for election authorities to remove political slogans instead of relying on the public or candidates to come forward and file objections."
Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party in 1996 wrote that, "Ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression."
Illinois courts have ruled repeatedly that Les "Cut the Taxes" Golden cannot use his moniker on the ballot. Various courts and electoral boards have knocked Golden off the ballot on several occasions after citizens filed objections to the use of the slogan. Orr cited case law that clearly prohibits such phrases from appearing on the ballot. Golden used the same slogan when he ran for a congressional seat in 1996. The Cook County Officers’ Electoral Board sustained an objection filed by a voter who challenged Golden’s candidacy. That decision was upheld by the Cook County Circuit Court and the Illinois Appellate Court, which ruled the name expressed "a characteristic position or stand or goal to be achieved."
In another lawsuit, a federal court judge stated that "Golden seeks to convey a political message to voters in the voting booth. There is no constitutional right to use the ballot as a forum for advocating a policy or communicating a message."