A Chicago political tradition is now underway, with candidates scouring the petitions of their political rivals as the February municipal election ballot takes shape.
Objections may be filed by Monday, and candidates from all levels of government are currently going over petitions with fine-tooth combs in an effort to potentially get their rivals booted from the ballot.
Wednesday was a typical scene at the Chicago Board of Elections, with workers, hired by political campaigns, crowding into the offices to ensure that petition-signers are registered voters.
“It’s often a very intense process,” CBOE spokesman Max Bever said.
Petitions are examined not only for duplicate names, as voters can only sign petitions for one candidate per office, but also for signature matches and correct addresses.
All three could potentially be used to eliminate a signature from the ballot, and if a candidate falls below the threshold for their race, they could be booted from the election.
The main focus of course is on the Chicago mayoral election, where candidates needed 12,500 signatures to get on the ballot. Currently there are 11 candidates who filed to run, but it isn’t a guarantee that they all will survive the challenge process.
In fact, former State Sen. Ricky Hendon, who is currently working for Dr. Willie Wilson, estimates that several candidates could be culled from the ballot.
“I think about six will make it,” he said.
Specifically, Hendon expressed concerns about Chicago Ald. Roderick Sawyer’s petitions. He also examined petitions for Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, who entered the race late, and said there are some concerns about the validity of some of his signatures.
He did say that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s petitions look to be solid.
“I looked at the mayor’s and hers, I think, she’s going to be fine,” he said. “She’s going to be alright.”
Ja’Mal Green, an activist who had to drop out of the race four years ago amid petition challenges, says he’s confident he’ll stay above the threshold and stay on the ballot this year.
“We’re pretty sure, pretty confident in our signatures, anybody that challenges us we think will be wasting their time,” he said. “It’s the Chicago way. I’ve been through it before, and I’m ready to go through it again.”
If an objection to petition signatures is filed, a hearing will be scheduled. The city even goes so far as to hire handwriting experts to pore over petitions.
“The Chicago Board of Commissioners is one of the only agencies in the country that employs handwriting experts as part of our hearings,” Bever said.
The challenging of petitions has been a Chicago political tradition for decades. In the last mayoral election, candidates often filed multiple challenges in attempts to trim the field down to a more manageable size.
Hendon also cited the example of former President Barack Obama, who notoriously filed petition challenges against opponents in his first state senate race in the 1990’s.
Obama’s campaign filed petition challenges against all three of his opponents, including incumbent Alice Palmer, and ultimately knocked all three from the ballot, giving him an easy primary victory.
Obama appealed to a sense of fair play and toughness in filing his challenges, and Hendon sounded similar notes.
“If a person will cheat to get on the ballot, they will cheat the citizens once they get into office,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”