Cook County Record

Judge: Democrats Can’t Change 2024 Election Rules Now to Block Republicans From Fall Ballot

June 5, 2024

(Cook County Record)—A Springfield judge has slapped a permanent hold on a new state law, hastily enacted this spring by Illinois’ Democratic supermajority, which rewrote the rules by which political parties can select candidates, and which Republicans described as little more than brazen attempt to block Republican candidates from challenging incumbent Democratic state lawmakers at the polls in November.

On June 5, Sangamon County Circuit Judge Gail Noll agreed with a group of 14 prospective Republican state legislative candidates that the law, known formally as Public Act 103-0586, represented an unconstitutional attempt by Democrats to essentially rewrite the election rules in the middle of the game.

“We applaud the Court’s decision to halt enforcement of the provision of P.A. 103-0586 that prohibited our clients from using the slating process to access the 2024 general election ballot,” said Jeffrey Schwab, at attorney with the Liberty Justice Center, of Chicago, which is representing the Republican candidates in the legal action.

“The General Assembly can change the rules for elections, but they can’t do it in the middle of the game to keep challengers off the ballot. We are proud to stand up for these candidates and against yet another scheme to suppress competition in Illinois elections,” Schwab said in a statement following the ruling.

In her ruling, Noll said the decision by the Democratic majority and Gov. JB Pritzker to apply the changes to the 2024 election amounts to an unconstitutional violation of Republicans’ right to vote this year.

“The revisions (as enacted under the new law) are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs in the November 2024 general election because the application of the amendment to Plaintiffs during the 2024 election cycle impermissibly burdens their right to vote and to have their names placed on the November ballot,” said Noll. “The timing of the amendment, which eliminated one of the methods for ballot access that was available at the beginning of the election cycle after the March primary election had taken place, precludes Plaintiffs from having their names placed on the November ballot under any statutorily available method.”


The ruling will require the Illinois State Board of Elections to place the names of the 14 potential Republican candidates on the ballot for the November 2024 general election, regardless of the new law. The ruling does not apply to enforcement of the law beyond the 2024 election.

The ruling sets the stage for a potential showdown before the Illinois Supreme Court over the law’s ultimate fate.

Initially known as Senate Bill 2412, the law amended state election rules to block political parties from slating candidates to run for office after the primary election, unless they had first run in their party’s primary election.

Under the previous rules, parties who had no official nominees for a particular elected office after the spring primary vote had 75 days after the primary election to “slate” candidates to run as the official party nominee in such races. This year, that deadline was to be June 3.

However, six weeks after the March 19 primary, and with just about four weeks until the June 3 deadline, Democrats rushed SB2412 through both houses of the Illinois General Assembly in less than 48 hours. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker then quickly signed the legislation, upending the candidate nomination process that was already underway.

While the changes would apply to all political parties, it is particularly harmful to Republicans during the 2024 election, as the GOP intended to rely on that process to ensure it had candidates on the ballot to run against Democratic incumbents in the November general election.

Pritzker described the law as an “ethics reform” measure, and Democrats said the law was needed to ensure only party primary voters can choose party nominees for seats in the Illinois state House and Senate.

Republicans, however, said the law amounted to brazen election interference by a partisan supermajority, trampling Republicans’ rights under the guise of promoting democracy.

With the changes, Democrats could all but ensure at least 53 of their incumbents in the State House and State Senate will face no competition this fall.

There are 138 state legislative contests on the ballot this fall across Illinois.

A group of prospective Republican candidates, who had been slated by the party in their respective state House and Senate districts, filed suit on May 11, about a week after Pritzker signed the measure into law.

The lawsuit asserted Democrats had unconstitutionally changed the rules for the 2024 election in the middle of the election cycle, violating the rights of voters and of candidates to seek office under the state and federal constitutions.

On May 22, Noll issued a temporary injunction, stopping the state from enforcing the new law. At the time she indicated she believed Republicans would ultimately prevail in the case, as the changes, as applied to the 2024 election, were likely unconstitutional infringements on the right to vote.

In the days following that ruling, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and attorneys for Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch each challenged the judge’s initial determination, saying the law – while it may amount to a political “dirty trick” by Democrats – is not unconstitutional.

They argued lawmakers have the absolute right to make changes to laws regulating ballot access, even in the middle of an election cycle, and courts have no authority to question lawmakers’ decisions.

They argued the Republican candidate plaintiffs could have run in the primary election, but chose not to, leaving them subject to immediate changes in the rules by the Democrats who control Springfield.

Pritzker, Raoul and their fellow Democrats have argued the law is needed to ensure candidates are solely chosen by voters in primary elections, rather than “a process where political insiders hand-select them to be their party’s nominees after the primary has passed and do so while gathering less signatures than independent or third-party candidates,” as described in a brief filed by Raoul’s office.

Noll, however, agreed with the Republican plaintiffs that the immediate effective date of the rule changes alone makes the changes unconstitutional.

“The General Assembly could make the revisions effective for the next election, rather than in the midst of the current election,” Noll said. “Everyone would be on notice that, in General Assembly races, when there was no candidate for the nomination of the party in the primary, no candidate of that party for that office can be listed on the ballot at the general election…

“… Changing the rules relating to ballot access in the midst of an election cycle removes certainty from the election process and is not necessary to achieve the legislation’s proferred goal.”

A spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections said the state agency isn’t a party to the lawsuit, and so won’t seek an appeal.

He said the ISBE will abide by the court order.

A spokesperson for Raoul did not yet provide comment from The Record, or to answer if they will seek to appeal Noll’s ruling.

An appeal could also come from Speaker Welch, who intervened in the court action to defend the law.

Welch is represented by attorneys Michael J. Kasper and Adam Vaught, longtime Democratic Party lawyers with longstanding ties to former Illinois House Speaker and former Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael J. Madigan. Madigan was forced from the Speaker’s office and then resigned from the state House shortly before he was indicted on federal charges related to a bribery scandal.