Illinois Voters Sue for the Right to Circulate Petitions Amidst Coronavirus and Stay at Home Order
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CHICAGO, IL -- April 9, 2020 -- A lawsuit was filed on behalf of six Illinois voters and the Illinois Democracy Amendment Committee who wish to continue circulating initiative petitions for the November ballot, but are currently unable to exercise this right due to the current public health emergency caused by the coronavirus and Governor Pritzker’s shelter-in-place emergency orders. Secretary of State Jesse White, the Evanston City Clerk, the Cook County Clerk, and eight members of the Illinois State Board of Elections are named as defendants. Plaintiffs are represented by the law firm of Mauck & Baker, LLC and former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.
The goal of the suit is to enable the Defendants to accommodate the constitutional rights and interests of the Plaintiffs and the general public by way of a court order to modify Illinois petition collection requirements for initiative referendums to be placed on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.
The right to petition is protected by the First Amendment and is essential to our democracy. However circulating initiative petitions was not listed as an “essential” activity under Illinois Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
With at least 363,813 initiative petition signatures needed for constitutional amendment referendums to be qualified for the November ballot in Illinois, the COVID-19 health crisis coupled with the Governor’s orders makes it impossible to gather signatures in Illinois. In addition, gathering signatures during the health crisis would endanger the health of the circulators and that of the public at large.
A number of states have already taken actions to protect the constitutional right to petition and vote in the midst of this health crisis. For example, in New Jersey, the governor issued an executive order to the secretary of state to implement online petitioning and signature collection. In Florida, the secretary of state signed an emergency order allowing for the collection of petition signatures online. Furthermore, the Arizona secretary of state has also adopted online petitioning for candidates. On March 14, 2020, the Governor of New York issued an executive order reducing the required number of petition signatures for all petitions for ballot access to 30% of the state threshold.
“We are hoping that this lawsuit will allow Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and other officials throughout Illinois to adapt their current voting laws in a way that will accommodate the Constitutional rights of our plaintiffs during this unprecedented health crisis,” John Mauck, an attorney for the Plaintiffs, said.
The case has been assigned to Federal Judge Charles R. Norgle of the Northern District of Illinois.