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Judge halts election law that blocked Republican candidates from appearing on November ballot

The Illinois State Capitol
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
The Illinois State Capitol

A judge in Springfield this week sided with a group of Republican office seekers who say they are blocked from November’s ballot under a controversial new law that’s been derided as a “dictator-style tactic of stealing an election.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on May 2 quickly signed into law a measure that eliminated the long-standing practice of allowing party leaders to choose general election candidates if no one has run for a legislative seat in the primary.

Under the new law, state House and Senate candidates must run in the primary in order to appear on the November general election ballot — a move that left prospective candidates in the lurch and was viewed as a political power grab by the Democrat-led legislature.

Democrats framed it as an ethics measure that would take “backroom deals” out of the equation — but it would give the party an automatic win in races in which Republicans did not slate a candidate in the primary.

In an order effective on Thursday, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Gail Noll blocked the State Board of Elections and Attorney General Kwame Raoul from enforcing the law against the four Republican candidates from Chicago, Northbrook, and Hickory Hills.

Noll wrote in a five-page order that the preliminary injunction would remain in effect until a lawsuit brought by the four candidates is fully resolved. A “final hearing” on the complaint is set for June 3.

The Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center filed the lawsuit May 10 on behalf of Leslie Collazo, Daniel Behr, Carl Kunz and James Kirchner, who are seeking seats in the state legislature.

Collazo, a Republican candidate hoping to run against State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, in the 8th District said she had about 600 signatures when the bill was signed into law. It effectively halted her campaign, until she learned there was legal recourse.

“I had to pause because I didn’t know if this law was going to be enforced. I didn’t know if I was breaking the law by continuing to get signatures. I just felt like my hands were tied,” Collazo said. “And then once I learned that we had an opportunity to fight this and didn’t have to really lay down to it, I picked up the petitioning and canvassing right back up again.”

Collazo, who said she became a Republican after the 2020 election, is still knocking on doors and alerting voters about the law she’s fighting against. She said she’s already reached the minimum requirement of 1,000 signatures.

“I feel it’s fueled a fire for people here who are completely fed up with self-serving politicians guaranteeing their seat and making the decision for voters,” Collazo said of the election law.

Behr is seeking to run against State Rep. Tracy Katz Muhl in the 57th District. He had already filed the required signatures to run for office when Pritzker put pen to paper. He said he’s not campaigning until a permanent ruling is issued — and he calls the law a “cynical move” by Democrats.

“For a party that espouses being the watchdog for voter disenfranchisement, well, this goes against their basic philosophical bent. They’re saying, well, we want to be all inclusive. Well, not really, and that’s manifested by what they did, this stunt they pulled,” Behr said. “We’re not children. We know the deal. They don’t want me on the ballot because I’m a strong candidate.”

The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling.

Tina Sfondeles is the chief political reporter, covering all levels of government and politics with a special focus on the Illinois General Assembly, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration and statewide and federal elections.
Jon Seidel covers federal courts for the Chicago Sun-Times.