Illinois Board of Elections allows Trump’s name to stay on ballot

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Illinois State Board of Elections members Cristina Cray, left, and Tonya Genovese listen as the board considers a challenge to former President Donald Trump’s qualifications to appear on the March 19 Republican primary ballot. The board voted 8-0 to leave his name on the ballot. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)

SPRINGFIELD – Former President Donald Trump’s name will appear on the March 19 Republican primary election ballot in Illinois, barring any extraordinary action by state or federal courts to remove him.

The Illinois State Board of Elections voted unanimously Tuesday to deny an objection based on the “insurrectionist clause” of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits former public officials who engage in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding public office again.

An attorney for the objectors said in an email that they would appeal the decision to the Cook County Circuit Court.

Board spokesman Matt Dietrich told reporters after the meeting that challenges similar to the one lodged against Trump are “highly unusual.” 

“We normally hear things like candidates don’t have a sufficient number of nominating signatures,” he said.

The objectors in Trump’s case argued that his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol amounted to an insurrection within the meaning of the 14th Amendment.

Trump had encouraged people through social media to come to Washington, D.C., that day to protest the certification of Biden’s win in the 2020 elections. Following a rally Trump hosted outside the White House that day, thousands of protesters marched to the Capitol and stormed through barricades to enter the building, forcing Congress to delay the certification vote.

As part of their evidence, the objectors submitted findings from the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, as well as a December ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court, which disqualified Trump from that state’s primary election ballot.

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a review of the Colorado case on Thursday, Feb. 8. That’s the same day voters in Illinois can begin casting advance ballots in person and the day when local election authorities begin sending out vote-by-mail ballots.

Clark Erickson, a former Republican judge from Kankakee County who served as a hearing officer in the objection, issued a report over the weekend concluding that Trump’s actions did constitute an insurrection. But he recommended denying the objection anyway, saying that under Illinois Supreme Court precedents, the board is only authorized to enforce the Illinois Election Code and may not delve into complex constitutional issues.

But Matthew Piers, an attorney for the objectors, rejected that argument.

“There is no question under the law … that this board not only has the authority to determine an objection based on the United States Constitution, but indeed, you have the clear, mandatory duty to do so,” he said. 

Attorneys for the Trump campaign made several arguments against the objection. They denied that Trump’s actions constituted an “insurrection” within the meaning of the 14th Amendment and insisted that he had urged his supporters to protest peacefully. 

After presentations from both sides and the board’s own general counsel, board member Jack Vrett, an Arlington Heights attorney, made the motion to dismiss the complaint and overrule the objection. He said he agreed that the board has no authority to decide constitutional questions.

“If we exceeded our authority and went beyond the documents and the nominating petitions and looked at the underlying conduct that was alleged in this case, what I believe you would see is an opening of a floodgate of litigation,” he said. 

Board member Catherine McCrory, an attorney from La Grange, supported the motion, but with some apparent reluctance.

“I want it to be clear that this Republican believes that there was an insurrection on Jan. 6,” she said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he manipulated, instigated, aided and abetted an insurrection on Jan. 6. However, having said that, it is not my place to rule on that today.”

The board also turned down three objections to President Joe Biden appearing on the Democratic primary ballot, including one that also made a 14th Amendment argument.

That objection argued that various immigration and foreign policy decisions of the Biden administration have amounted to giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States.

The board voted unanimously to reject that charge on the grounds that it amounted to a policy disagreement with the candidate.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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