Legislation would hike number of signatures needed by candidates

Joe Cressman

A bill expected to be signed into state law this fall could make potential candidates in DuPage County think twice — or maybe three times — about running for office.

A portion of Senate Bill 662, which recently passed overwhelmingly in both the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate, would triple the number of signatures needed by candidates running for county office in DuPage.

If the bill is signed, DuPage would become the only county in the state where a candidate needs the signatures of 1.5 percent of voters within that candidate’s party who cast votes in either the previous general election or primary.

A Democrat candidate running for a County Board seat would need the names of 1.5 percent of voters in the sought-after district who voted for Democrats in the previous primary.

Local lawmakers in favor of the change said the current standard (0.5 percent) is too low for a county as large as is DuPage.

“Do you think it’s appropriate that (a candidate gets his or her) a name on the ballot with as few as 40 signatures?” said state Sen. Dan Cronin, R-21st District, of Elmhurst. “It’s too low a threshold to get a name on ballot, and I think this is consistent with other laws and has been trend for the last several years.”

Although the threshold for county offices has not changed, the number of signatures required by candidates for state office has risen, said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans.

“There’s clearly a precedent,” she said. “Probably every session or two when we have an omnibus election bill some threshold increases. (They’ve) increased the number of signatures that legislators need. The number for the House has increased and for the Senate.”

State Rep. Bob Biggins, R-41st District, of Elmhurst, tried to get the same law passed on a different bill earlier this summer.

“This is viewed as a positive thing,” he said. “The (numbers) haven’t been changed for years, and the county has grown so much.”

DuPage has one of the highest populations in the state, second only to Cook County.

Not all view the change as positive. The potential law has sparked a bit of an uproar among DuPage Democrats and members of the DuPage Green Party.

Challengers said the legislation is a way for Republican leaders to maintain their stronghold in DuPage.

“It is far easier for incumbents to generate signatures than challengers,” said Gayl Ferraro, chair of the Democratic Party of DuPage County. “The DuPage County Republicans must be plenty worried about the Democrats ... if they have to resort to legislative chicanery to keep their weakening grasp on elective politics.”

William Edgar, co-chair of the DuPage Green Party, agreed.

“In my opinion, the new law, if enacted, would dissuade some potential candidates from seeking office by placing too high a requirement and this, of course, favors incumbents,” said Edgar, a Wheaton resident. “The Republicans are very well organized in DuPage, and it would be rather easy for them to qualify incumbents. I think someone who wants to challenge an incumbent would face a tougher challenge (by having to) collect three times the signatures.”

The fact that DuPage has grown is not a good argument for the change, he said.

“My response would be even with the population growing, isn’t the signature requirement going to go up even without tripling?” Edgar said. “Why triple in only one county in the entire state? It still doesn’t satisfy me.”

Both Biggins and Cronin pointed out that SB 662 was sponsored by a Democrat. State Sen. Terry Link, D-30th District, of Lake Bluff accepted the legislation in the form of an amendment.

“They felt that apparently it was reasonable and not a conspiracy,” Biggins said.

“We approached the Democrats, and they were compelled by the merits of the legislation,” Cronin added. “This is good government, and I think the DuPage Democrats need to stop crying and get with the program. I don’t know why they’re afraid to go out and get a few signatures.”