Coronavirus

Illinois Court Orders Part-Zoom Caucuses for Local Party Nominations (if In-Person Caucuses Aren't Possible)

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From Somer v. Bloom Downship Dem. Org., decided yesterday by the Illinois Appellate Court (opinion by Justice Gordon, joined by Justices Hall and Ellis):

Bloom Township [population about 90,000] has several local elected offices which will be voted on in their next general election, which will be held on April 6, 2021. Normally, the nominees for each political party for their elected positions are selected through a caucus process, which would occur on December 1, 2020….

[Plaintiffs] have filed a lawsuit seeking an order requiring the Democratic nominees to be selected through a primary instead of through the Township caucus process [because of the pandemic]…. At the time that the complaint at issue in the instant appeal was filed, gatherings were limited to no more than 50 people or 50% of room capacity, whichever is less, and at the time of the filing of this opinion, the pandemic has increased at an alarming rate. {At the time of this appeal, gatherings are limited to 25 people or 25% of overall room capacity, whichever is less.} …

The court refused to order a primary instead of an election, because state law generally left that decision to "the township central committee of a political party." But it added:

[I]f defendants choose to proceed with a caucus meeting, we order the trial court to ensure the safety of the participants by imposing appropriate restrictions, based on the public health guidelines in effect at the time. Specifically, the trial court's order should include a requirement that defendants provide for a method of remote participation in the caucus meeting for those people who do not desire to be in attendance at a live caucus meeting.

Those people who do desire to meet at an open meeting will have the opportunity to do so, subject to the public health guidelines in effect at the time. By providing both an open meeting and one through remote participation, the right to assemble will be satisfied. The remote participation can occur through Zoom or through similar technology.

The court's order must also require that defendants also ensure that any person who would otherwise be entitled to participate in the caucus meeting has the ability to participate remotely, meaning that defendants must provide for a way for those without home computers or sufficient internet connections to nonetheless be able to participate and have their vote counted….

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  1. Why are states even in the business of dealing with primary/nomination procedures? I feel the same about paying for them. The political parties are private organizations. Why should the state (or federal government) be involved in internal matters? That is ultimately what a nomination is; and internal decision of a private organization on who to support in a public election. Regulating, at least imo, runs afoul of the 1st amendment right to association and paying for primary elections or caucuses is an unwise subsidy.

    1. Actually, the rule on whether or not political parties can be treated like private entities for the purpose of election law primary process is extremely unclear.

      It is obviously true any political party can say whatever they want or do whatever they want in terms of nominations. However, running elections is the purview of the state. Primaries are a weird edge category where both the state and the party runs it. The state decides the date, for instance.

      And even if the state were ro completely give it to the party to run, it is still weird. There was a supreme court case where in Texas, the democratic party held “white only,” primaries, and despite the fact that this was before the Civil rights act, the primary process was completely in the hands of a private organization, the democrats, it was struck down. Later the Supreme Court struck down a state rule for primaries on the grounds that parties are private organizations. The final rule is not clear, but both state and party play a role.

  2. If they are going to do this, I really hope its not zoom. Zoom is good for a host directed sort of thing, but when multiple people are interacting, as in a caucus, its not a good idea. Hopefully some video conferencing software designed for this purpose.

    But also, caucuses are stupid. Online caucuses are stupider. Why can’t yall just vote like normal people? I just don’t see how this is going to work at all.

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