The Illinois Supreme Court has ordered Rahm Emanuel’s name back on the ballot in the Chicago mayoral race, although it’s still deciding whether or not to hear his appeal to a lower court ruling that declared him ineligible to run for the office.
It seems a bit unlikely the Illinois Supremes would leave Emanuel twisting in the wind after compelling the Chicago Board of Elections to print his name on the ballot. We won’t have to wait long to find out, since the election is less than a month away.
The Associated Press reports that Emanuel’s appeal claims the standards applied to him would set “a significant limitation on ballot access that denies voters the right to choose certain candidates.” Wouldn’t that logically be true of every election restriction?
The restriction vexing Emanuel says that mayoral candidates have to live in the area for a year before the election, which is obviously not the case with the former White House Chief of Staff. His argument is that prior court decisions have not interpreted this to mean physical residence. He thinks it should be good enough that he still owns the house he’s been renting out since he embarked upon his Washington adventures, and “clearly intended to return.”
It will be up to the Illinois Supreme Court to decide if they accept Emanuel’s legal reasoning, but as a matter of common sense, it seems ludicrous. By that standard, anyone interested in running for mayor of Chicago need only purchase a house and register to vote there.
Is the residency requirement unreasonable? That’s up to the people of Illinois, who could change the law through proper legislative means in the future if they chose. The general idea behind residency requirements is to limit the ballot to people with firm connections to the community, who are directly affected by its affairs.
Illinois makes an exception for military service, and Emanuel made an attempt to claim that exception includes his service to the Obama Administration, but that’s exactly the kind of service that would run contrary to the purpose of a residency requirement, by deeply immersing him in an entirely different political system. Lingering connections to Washington would make him, in theory, less devoted to the interests of Chicago. Obviously, few Chicago voters would hold that against this particular candidate, but if the reasoning behind the law is no longer valid, then the law should be duly overturned, not waived in special cases.
Emanuel has been front-runner in Chicago polls for some time, so I expect he will probably end up being mayor of Chicago in February. If the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, or ruled against him, after ordering his name back on the ballot, it would be one of the most spectacular insults ever delivered, by a political machine that is not given to insulting its own gears.
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