If it’s nominating petition challenge time, it’s time for another installment of the Landmark’s “Hey, can the legislature please take local petition challenges out of the hands of a conflicted electoral board?” editorial.

First off, the decision made by the North Riverside electoral board last week was the right one. Whatever “errors” were made on the nominating petitions filed by the VIP candidates late last year were trivial. None of them sowed voter confusion or were egregious enough to disqualify an entire slate of candidates.

The challenge was payback for 2013, when VIP challenged a slate of candidates aligned with the current crop of rivals. This year it put the electoral board in a potentially embarrassing and uncomfortable situation, because the electoral board was made up entirely of VIP officials. And all of the candidates being challenged were fellow VIP members.

Two years ago, one of VIP’s challenges to its rivals was the use of an ampersand in the party name, which had the effect of making the party name one word too long. The local electoral board (also stocked with VIP members), upheld that challenge and knocked off the entire slate.

There were also separate, more serious challenges in 2013 that targeted specific candidates. In the end, one candidate was left off the ballot by the Illinois Court of Appeals, but the court also swatted away the trivial ampersand challenge, and restored everyone else to the ballot.

The trouble was that the challenge dragged on until just a week before the election. The rival candidates’ campaign was bogged down fighting the challenge, and in the end the only way to vote for their candidates was by taking a special paper ballot on Election Day. It was nuts.

Taking petition challenges out of the hands of local electoral boards and putting them into the hands of an independent board will cut down on the number of frivolous cases and allow more access to ballots.

In Cook County, challenges already have been taken out of the hands of local elected officials for park districts, library district boards and school districts.

In 2011, a slew of candidates filed to run in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 and a slew of challenges followed, using the same time-honored, ballot-blocking methods that served for years to bump annoying opposition off the ballot and clearing the way for the political establishment.

In 2015, there are a dozen candidates in District 103 and none of them are being challenged, even though there are plenty of newcomers whose petitions may have been prone to have errors.

The point of elections is for voters to have choices. It’s time for state officials to recognize that ballot access shouldn’t just be for the political “haves.” Making electoral boards independent is a better way to ensure that than leaving it up to a board that may be compromised in its approach to challenge cases.

While it didn’t harm the process this time, that shouldn’t be an argument against change. It’s time. 

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