SPRINGFIELD -- Two Illinois election experts were surprised at a state appellate court’s decision to boot Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel from the ballot on Monday and said that if the Illinois Supreme Court takes the case, its decision will have an impact across the state.

SPRINGFIELD -- Two Illinois election experts were surprised at a state appellate court’s decision to boot Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel from the ballot on Monday and said that if the Illinois Supreme Court takes the case, its decision will have an impact across the state.

“It sets up some pretty interesting political theater,” said Ron Michaelson, former executive director of the State Board of Elections and a Springfield resident. “The stakes are so high.”

The appellate court, in a 2-1 decision written by Justice Thomas Hoffman, overturned a circuit court ruling that said Emanuel was a resident of Chicago while he served as President Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff and as a result was eligible to run and should be on the Feb. 22 primary ballot.

Michaelson said the biggest wrinkle is how quickly the Illinois Supreme Court can decide the case if it chooses to take it. Early voting is scheduled to begin on Jan. 31, and absentee ballots were supposed to be sent out in the next few days. That presents a problem for Chicago election authorities, who have been ordered not to put Emanuel’s name on ballots, which they were set to start printing this week, Michaelson said.

Emanuel asked the state’s highest court on Monday to allow his name to be printed on the ballot while he pursues his appeal.

As in Sangamon County, Chicago uses printed, optical-scan ballots for most voters. If a candidate is removed from an already-printed ballot, a sticker can be placed over the person’s name. But because the appellate court ordered Emanuel’s name not be on the ballot, putting it on if the Supreme Court justices let Emanuel back on will be more difficult, Michaelson said.

“They’re not going to hear the case tomorrow. … You’d have to reprint all those ballots,” Michaelson said. “They could hold up the absentee process as well as the early-voting process. You can’t wait too long. You’ve got overseas and military people. You have to respect everybody’s right to vote.”

The case’s outcome will have an effect both legally and politically at the Statehouse, according to Michaelson and Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois Springfield.

“It would set a new standard, if you will, for any other similar kinds of cases,” Michaelson said. “If they (the state Supreme Court) don’t reverse the appellate court decision, that is precedent.”

Emanuel is by far the strongest candidate in an otherwise weak field, Redfield said, and potentially could potentially be a force in state politics if he wins. The other major candidates are Gery Chico, a former aide to current Chicago Mayor Richard Daley; former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun; and former state legislator and current Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

“The mayor of Chicago is always a player,” Redfield said. “It will complicate the budget in Springfield. You’re going to be talking about cutting programs, providing social services, decisions involving taxes -- there’s a wide range of things.

“If Mayor Daley were still mayor, then you would assume he would be able to deliver votes, that he would be in a position to be able to -- because of his success at getting big business and big labor to work together -- that he would carry some weight in terms of forging agreement. When you’ve got uncertainty … that makes it harder to get budget decisions. You’re not going to have the kind of strong ally that you might have had.”

Michaelson said the strong wording of Justice Bertina Lampkin’s dissent gives Emanuel a basis for his appeal. Lampkin accused the majority of being careless and said the decision was “based on the whims of two judges.”

“The dissent is particularly striking and I thought a little acerbic,” Michaelson said.

While saying it’s hard to handicap what the Supreme Court will do if it takes the case, Michaelson said in his experience with residency cases over the years, courts look at the intent of the candidate in cases that hinge on legal technicalities. Still, the background of this case, in which Emanuel rented his house while continuing to vote in Chicago, is unlike any Michaelson saw while he was at the State Board of Elections.

“Where did the person intend to have his or her residency?” Michaelson said. “Emanuel obviously intended to be a resident of Chicago. If a decision was a close one, the courts would say let’s rule in favor of ballot access. I know our own State Board of Elections … generally that was their philosophy. Let’s not take folks off the ballot on a close legal technicality.”

 

Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.