CHICAGO — In a unanimous, bipartisan vote, the Illinois State Board of Elections on Tuesday dismissed a challenge to former President Donald Trump’s place on the state’s March 19 GOP primary ballot, saying it lacked the authority to decide whether he was disqualified from holding office under the U.S. Constitution’s “insurrection clause.”
Guided by past Illinois Supreme Court rulings that prevent it from deciding complex constitutional issues, the board in an 8-0 vote rejected an objection that Trump “knowingly” filed a false statement of candidacy saying he was qualified to hold the office of the presidency.
The decision by the board, made up of four Democrats and four Republicans, is expected to be appealed in Cook County circuit court by the group of five voters who filed the objection to Trump’s name appearing on the ballot over his role in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The objectors cited provisions of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, a post-Civil War measure that says those who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution “as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state,” shall not be able to serve in Congress or “hold any office, civil or military” if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution.
The challenge was backed by Free Speech for People, a group that has mounted similar 14th Amendment challenges in states around the country.
In a post on his Truth Social media site, Trump thanked the state elections board for its vote “in protecting the Citizens of our Country from the Radical Left Lunatics who are trying to destroy it.”
“The VOTE was 8-0 in favor of keeping your favorite President (ME!) on the ballot. I love Illinois. Make America Great Again,” Trump wrote.
Trump lost Illinois by 17 percentage points in both the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
The election board’s decision followed the recommendation of a hearing officer, former Republican Kankakee County Circuit Judge Clark Erickson, who said that while he agreed with objectors that Trump had engaged in “insurrection,” the board could not use constitutional analysis to make a ruling on the former president’s access to the ballot.
GOP board member Catherine McRory voted to allow Trump’s name on the ballot but said she “wanted to be clear that this Republican views that there was an insurrection on Jan. 6.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that he manipulated, instigated, aided and abetted an insurrection on Jan. 6,” she said of Trump. “However, having said that, it is not my place to rule on that today” because of the board’s lack of jurisdiction “to rule on that fact.”
Republican board member Jack Vrett warned of a “floodgate” of ballot objections if the board went beyond its statutory review of candidacy petitions and papers to consider “underlying issues.”
“I think that we do not have jurisdiction to weigh in to the constitutional issue to decide the question of whether the candidate engaged in insurrection,” Vrett said.
Matt Piers, an attorney for the group objecting to Trump’s place on the ballot, argued that the elections board has the power to decide if the former president should be disqualified from the Illinois ballot and contended that the board wrongly interpreted state Supreme Court rulings on the limitations of its power.
“There is no question that this board not only has the authority to determine objections based on the United States Constitution, but indeed you have the clear mandatory duty to do so,” he said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “You signed up for this job. This burden came with you signing up for this job. You may not have anticipated a case of this complexity or of this degree of controversy, but that does not change your statutory and constitutional authority.”
Piers argued that the board’s ultimate decision — to keep Trump on the ballot because he did not “knowingly” file a false statement of candidacy attesting to being qualified to be president — was creating new election law and was inconsistent with the facts.
“The evidence clearly establishes that the certification that he made at the time he made it was false. He certainly was well aware that ... seeking to prevent the certification of the results of the presidential election was unlawful, was illegal,” Piers said.
Piers said there was a “fairly fulsome record on which to presume he knew that trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power was illegal.”
Trump campaign attorney Adam Merrill countered that Trump “did not engage in insurrection,” calling it a “complicated legal term that has been rarely interpreted."
“Mr. Trump has denied ever participating in an insurrection,” Merrill told the board. “He never advocated violence. There’s nothing in the record that suggests that he did and he always said all of his public statements and Tweets on Jan. 6 were to be peaceful.”
Merrill contended the “insurrection clause” was meant to be enforced by Congress and that it does not apply to the office of president. He said Trump’s statement of candidacy cannot be deemed false “without actual evidence that” the former president knew it was false when he signed it.
Illinois was among more than a dozen states where objections to Trump’s ballot qualifications were pending.
Two states have barred Trump from their primary ballots, although both of those cases are under appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments on Feb. 8 in an appeal of a December ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that Trump is disqualified from holding the office of the presidency under the “insurrection clause.”
A late December ruling from Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, the state’s top election official, who found Trump ineligible for that state’s ballot, is under appeal in state court.
The Illinois elections board on Tuesday also quickly dismissed three objections to President Joe Biden appearing on the Democratic primary ballot. The objections included contending Biden violated a provision of the “insurrection clause” for providing “aid and comfort” to the nation’s enemies because of his border and immigration policies.