SPRINGFIELD — Representatives for Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican challengers led by former President Donald Trump filed petitions Thursday to gain a spot on Illinois’ March 19 partisan presidential primary ballots.
Representatives for two other Republican candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, also were in line to file candidacy petitions when the doors to the State Board of Elections opened at 8 a.m., starting a two-day window for presidential candidates and their delegate slates to file for the ballot.
Candidates who filed first thing Thursday earned a chance for the top ballot spot, while candidates who wait until 4 p.m. Friday to file earn a chance for the bottom spot.
The only other Republican candidate to file on Thursday was little-known Ryan Binkley, a Dallas, Texas, businessman and pastor. Biden’s nominal Democratic challengers, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and self-help author and unsuccessful 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, filed petitions for the presidential preference portion of the ballot but did not put in paperwork for any delegates.
About two dozen people stood outside the board of elections office before the doors opened, many of them supporters or delegate candidates for Trump.
Myles Nelson, a Trump delegate candidate, said that it’s a “foregone conclusion” Trump will be the Republican nominee, but that his supporters need to work hard nonetheless.
“We have to just keep fighting in the general election, trying to change people’s minds, make them realize the disastrous policies of Joe Biden and the Democrats,” Nelson said. “They’re scared to death of the thought of him getting back in office and ‘Making America Great Again.’”
Smaller groups lined up for Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, and DeSantis.
Cynthia Lamar, a delegate candidate for DeSantis from central Illinois, said she thinks Republicans generally agree on the big issues, even while supporting different candidates.
“Primaries are tough. You know, your best friend’s on the other campaign,” Lamar said. “But we’re all, as far as in Sangamon County, everybody’s a good sport and supportive of each other.”
Chris Dunn, a delegate candidate for Biden, said that despite the country’s political polarization, the different presidential camps remained cordial as they waited to file. Liz Brown-Reeves, another delegate candidate for Biden, agreed.
“Look, you can be professional and cordial. We do this at the statehouse every day,” said Brown-Reeves, a veteran state Capitol lobbyist. “But, you know, fundamentally we are very different and I think the president supports all people.”
While the signature requirements for both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are identical, each requiring between 3,000 and 5,000 signatures of valid voters, the process for nominating convention delegates differs significantly.
Illinois Republicans will send 64 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee from July 15-18, with 51 of them directly elected in the March GOP primary. The top three delegate candidate finishers in each of the state’s 17 congressional districts, running as pledged to a candidate or uncommitted, earn a spot at the national convention.
GOP voters also will select the same number of alternate delegates, who serve if a nominated delegate cannot participate in the convention.
State Republican Chair Don Tracy and the state’s GOP national committeeman and committeewoman are automatically delegates, and another 10 at-large delegates will be selected at the party’s state convention in May.
The 51 elected delegates are bound to support the candidate to whom they are pledged. The 13 party officials and at-large delegates must support the winner of the statewide presidential preference voting.
Trump, DeSantis and Haley all filed full delegate slates Thursday.
Trump’s candidates included Steve Balich of Orland Park, the Will County Board Republican leader and Homer Township supervisor; Chicago 2nd Ward GOP Committeeperson Eloise Gerson; and downstate U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of Hindsboro, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus.
Filing as Trump delegates in the downstate 12th Congressional District were U.S. Rep. Mike Bost of Murphysboro and unsuccessful 2022 GOP candidate for governor Darren Bailey of Xenia. Bailey is challenging Bost in the March primary and both candidates have been soliciting Trump’s endorsement.
Delegate candidates for DeSantis included Shannon Adcock of Naperville, president of Awake Illinois, a conservative group that has fought battles over public school and library materials; DuPage County GOP chair and county board member Jim Zay of Carol Stream; Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau; state Sens. Dave Syverson of Rockford and Sue Rezin of Morris; and former Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.
Haley’s delegate candidates included Elizabeth Doody Gorman, former Cook County Board member and former county GOP chair; state Sens. Don DeWitte of St. Charles and Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods; and state Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria.
A Republican presidential candidate needs the support of an estimated 1,235 delegates nationally to win the nomination. But it’s questionable whether Illinois’ primary will be relevant to either party’s presidential nomination by the time ballots are cast.
Super Tuesday is March 5, two weeks before Illinois’ primary, when 15 GOP primaries and caucuses will be held including contests in delegate-heavy California and Texas. If Super Tuesday fails to decide the matter, Illinois’ primary date is shared with the key presidential election states of Ohio and Florida.
The formal filing of candidacy papers on behalf of Trump opens the door to a challenge of his qualifications for the office under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution based on his role in fomenting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Challenges in some states have been dismissed but Colorado and Maine have both bumped Trump from the ballot.
Trump is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court a ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court’s Democratic majority that he is disqualified from the presidency under the Constitution’s “insurrection clause,” which was primarily used to prevent supporters of the Confederacy from holding office after the Civil War.
Trump also is appealing to a state court a ruling by the Maine secretary of state that he be removed from the primary ballot.
Under Illinois law, Trump’s petition package must include a statement of candidacy in which he provides a notarized signature affirming that he is “legally qualified” for the office he is seeking.
After Trump’s papers were filed Thursday, a group of five voters filed an objection asking the State Board of Elections to disqualify him from the primary ballot. The elections board previously has said the matter is for the courts or the Illinois legislature to address.
The objectors are backed by Free Speech for People, an organization that has pursued efforts nationwide to have Trump disqualified from state ballots.
Biden, facing only nominal opposition within his party, needs to win an estimated 1,895 of pledged Democratic delegates on the first ballot when the party holds its national convention in Chicago from Aug. 19-22.
Biden’s full slate of delegate candidates included many Democratic state lawmakers and several Chicago aldermen. Also filing were Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea of Springfield and Robert Reiter, the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.
The Democratic delegate process is governed by national rules regarding race and ethnicity, sexual identity, youth and people with disabilities.
A total of 177 nominating delegates from Illinois will be attending the party’s national convention. Of those, 96 will be elected in the March primary from the state’s congressional districts, with the number of delegates ranging from three to eight based on past Democratic turnout.
A Democratic presidential candidate must get at least 15% of the votes in the presidential preference voting within the congressional district to be entitled to a delegate. The delegates are awarded proportionally by the preference vote in each district, as an effort is made to provide an even number of men and women. Candidates who identify as nonbinary are counted separately.
The 96 district delegates chosen by voters will meet April 29 to approve 32 at-large delegates and 19 party leaders and elected officials such as Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and the state’s 14 U.S. House members and Democratic National Committee members from Illinois are among another group of 30 automatic delegates.
Pearson reported from Chicago.