March 29, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:18-cv-00293 -
Elaine E. Bucklo, Judge.
Hamilton, Barrett, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.
Barrett, Circuit Judge.
Edward Acevedo could appear on the 2018 Democratic primary
ballot for Cook County Sheriff, he had to obtain a certain
number of voter signatures on a nominating petition. He
didn't meet the signature requirement, so he was kept off
the ballot. He then sued the Chicago, Cook County, and
Illinois electoral boards, arguing that the Cook County
signature requirement is unconstitutional because it is more
onerous than the signature requirement for statewide offices.
According to Acevedo, the comparatively higher county
requirement can survive only if it is narrowly tailored to
advance a compelling state interest.
is wrong. Strict scrutiny is not triggered by the existence
of a less burdensome restriction-it is triggered only when
the challenged regulation itself imposes a severe burden.
Because Acevedo has not alleged that the burden imposed by
the Cook County signature requirement is severe, the
defendants need not show any justification for it beyond
Illinois's interest in orderly and fair elections. That
interest easily justifies the signature requirement here.
Illinois law, potential candidates for public office must
file a nominating petition to gain a place on a political
party's primary ballot. That petition must include a
certain number of signatures from voters in the jurisdiction
where the candidate seeks election, and those signatures must
be collected within a 90-day window. 10 ILCS 5/7-10.
Candidates for statewide offices must collect 5, 000
signatures. Id. 5/7-10(a). Candidates for countywide
offices in Cook County must collect a number of signatures
equal to 0.5% of the qualified voters of the candidate's
party who voted in the most recent general election in Cook
County. Id. 5/7-10(d)(1). According to this formula,
Acevedo had to gather 8, 236 valid signatures to appear on
the 2018 Democratic primary ballot for Cook County Sheriff.
He gathered only 5, 654, so he was denied a place on the
filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that this
denial violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to
freedom of association and equal protection. His argument
relied on the distinction between the state and county
signature requirements. According to Acevedo, the statewide
requirement reflects Illinois's judgment that making
candidates collect 5, 000 signatures is sufficient to protect
the state's interest in ballot management. Even so, the
state demands 8, 236 signatures from Democrats seeking
countywide office in Cook County. Acevedo argued that
Illinois could not impose this heightened burden unless doing
so furthered a compelling state interest. Insisting that
Illinois lacked any such interest, Acevedo sought a
declaratory judgment pronouncing the Cook County requirement
unconstitutional, as well as injunctive relief to bar
enforcement of the requirement and compel the defendants to
place his name on the Democratic primary ballot.
district court held that Acevedo had failed to state a claim
and dismissed the complaint. The court made clear that there
is no bright-line rule requiring any county ballot
requirement that is more stringent than a state requirement
to be justified by a compelling state interest. Instead, the
focus is on the burden imposed by the challenged regulation.
And here, the court explained, Acevedo had failed to allege
that requiring candidates to gather 8, 236 signatures is a
constitutionally significant burden.
the election is over, Acevedo's claim is not moot because
it is capable of repetition, yet evading review. This branch
of the mootness doctrine requires that "(1) the
challenged action was in its duration too short to be fully
litigated prior to its cessation or expiration, and (2) there
was a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party
would be subjected to the same action again."
Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975).
These requirements are often met in ballot-access cases.
See, e.g., Norman v. Reed, 502 U.S. 279, 287-88
(1992); Gjertsen v. Bd. of Election Comm'rs of City
of Chi., 751 F.2d 199, 202 (7th Cir. 1984). Here, the
timeline for collecting signatures to appear on a primary
ballot is too short to fully litigate a challenge to the
signature requirement. In light of this, and because Acevedo
has expressed his intention to run for office in Cook County
again, his challenge remains live.
constitutionality of a ballot-access restriction depends on
"a practical assessment of the challenged scheme's
justifications and effects." Stone v. Bd. of
Election Comm'rs for City of Chi., 750 F.3d 678, 681
(7th Cir. 2014). That assessment is governed by the two-step
analysis that the Supreme Court announced in Anderson v.
Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983). We "first consider
the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the
rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that
the plaintiff seeks to vindicate." Id. at 789.
We "then must identify and evaluate the precise
interests put forward by the State as justifications for the
burden imposed by its rule" and weigh these interests
against the burdened rights. Id. In doing so, we
look to the "legitimacy and strength" of the
proffered interests, as well as "the extent to which
those interests make it necessary to burden the
plaintiff's rights." Id. In Burdick v.
Takushi, the Court emphasized that this test applies to
all First and Fourteenth Amendment challenges to
state election laws. 504 U.S. 428, 432-34 (1992).
this flexible Anderson-Bur dick standard, the level
of scrutiny with which we review a ballot-access restriction
depends on the extent of its imposition: "the more
severely it burdens constitutional rights, the more rigorous
the inquiry into its justifications." Libertarian
Party of Illinois v. Scholz,872 F.3d 518, 523-24 (7th
Cir. 2017). "Nondiscriminatory restrictions that impose
only slight burdens are generally justified by the need for
orderly and fair elections," whereas severe burdens must
be "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state
interest." Id. at 524 (citation omitted).
Because of this dichotomy, ...