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Cunningham files for judicial review over disqualification from Congressional primary in Illinois

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February 9, 2012

By Amanda Carey and Greg Janetka

Incumbent Judy Biggert is currently facing no opposition in the Republican primary for U.S. House District 11 after two candidates were disqualified.

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois: What initially looked to be sizing up as a three-way primary has turned into an uncontested race -- at least for now. Following the decision of the Illinois State Board of Elections to remove two challengers, incumbent U.S. House Republican Judy Biggert currently stands unopposed in Illinois' March 20 primary for the 11th congressional seat.

In order to qualify for the ballot, candidates need to submit 600 valid signatures, which are then validated by the Illinois State Board of Elections (BOE). The Illinois State BOE is somewhat unique as Illinois has more units of local government than any other state. The BOE was created by the Legislature in 1973 to centralize everything having to do with elections in one body. It consists of 8 members - four Republicans and four Democrats. Two members of each party are from Cook County and two of each are from downstate.[1] Once the candidate filing period is over, citizens have five business days to submit objections and they are heard within 3 to 5 days after the chairman of the board receives the objector's petitions. If a candidate is removed, they have 5 days to file for judicial review, which must be held within 30 days.[2] In this case, the candidate filing deadline for congress was December 27, 2011 and objections were filed on January 4.[3][4]

On February 2, the Board disqualified Republican challengers John Cunningham and Diane Harris, removing them from the ballot. Harris, a notary public, was unanimously removed while Cunningham, was removed by a vote of 6-2.[5] Cunningham, who serves as Kane County clerk, submitted 1,265 signatures, but only 526 were ruled to be valid. A state hearing officer threw out hundreds of signatures from Cunningham because they were collected by a paid petitioner who listed a non-existent address as his home.[6] Cunningham previously attempted to remove Biggert from the ballot, but saw the challenge rejected unanimously.[7]

Following the rulings, Harris is continuing to run, but as a write-in candidate.[8] Cunningham, however, is not giving up so easily. Although he initially said, "I'm an elected official and if we did it wrong, we don't belong on the ballot,"[9] it now looks like he is appealing. According to Ken Menzel, Deputy General Counsel for the Board of Elections, Cunningham filed for judicial review of the decision on February 7. While a date for the appeal has not yet been set, Menzel said the court will most likely try to expedite the case.[10] In his dissent on the disqualification of Cunningham, Board member Jesse Smart said the arguments in the case were confusing and should have seen a different outcome, stating, "If I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of the candidate."[5]

Curtis Ellis, spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability -- a Super-PAC that has been active in the district -- said "Chicago-style politics" is to blame for Cunningham being thrown off the ballot. "If we're supposed to believe that this lawsuit is a product of immaculate conception, we're expected to believe Judy Biggert is the Virgin Mary," Ellis said.[11]

Biggert, who has served in the U.S. House since 1999, saw her current district, the 13th, divided among six different districts following the once-a-decade redistricting process. With her home now in the Democratic-leaning 5th, which includes an area stretching from the Chicago lakefront east to O'Hare Airport and south to Hinsdale, Biggert opted to run in the 11th, which is strictly made up of suburban areas more friendly to Republicans.[6] In response to the Board's ruling, she stated, "Any time you have a clear shot without a primary is really a good thing. It will give me time to devote more energy and resources in running in the general."[12]

According to the State Board of Elections website, as of today, 11 candidates for congress - 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats - have been removed from the ballot.[13]

Spokespersons for the Biggert and Cunningham campaigns did not respond before press time. This article will be updated if a response is provided.

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