Trump's access to Illinois ballot in the balance as official issues opinion on insurrection challenge

Bourbonnais, Illinois - A hearing officer agreed with objectors that former President Donald Trump "engaged in insurrection" on January 6, 2021, but said he believed it is up to the courts and not the State Board of Elections to decide whether to remove him from the March 19 Illinois primary ballot.

An Illinois elections hearing officer declined to recommend barring ex-President Donald Trump from the state ballot on 14th Amendtment grounds.
An Illinois elections hearing officer declined to recommend barring ex-President Donald Trump from the state ballot on 14th Amendtment grounds.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The non-binding recommendation from Clark Erickson, a retired Republican judge from Kankakee County, comes ahead of the state election board's meeting Tuesday to certify the names that will appear on the primary ballot.

The objection to having Trump on the ballot was filed by five Illinois voters and backed by Free Speech for People, a group that has been behind efforts to have Trump removed from ballots across the nation under provisions of what is known as the "insurrection act" of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Erickson said previous Illinois Supreme Court rulings bar the State Board of Elections from acting on candidate disqualifications based on constitutional analysis. Because of those rulings, he said, the board should reject the Trump ballot objection.

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"It is impossible to imagine the Board deciding whether Candidate Trump is disqualified by Section 3 without the Board engaging in significant and sophisticated constitutional analysis," Erickson wrote.

"All in all, attempting to resolve a constitutional issue within the expedited schedule of an election board hearing is somewhat akin to scheduling a two-minute round between heavyweight boxers in a telephone booth."

Election official slams Trump's conduct

Trump's ballot eligibility has been challenged in multiple states by opponents who argue he is disqualified from running for office again.
Trump's ballot eligibility has been challenged in multiple states by opponents who argue he is disqualified from running for office again.  © REUTERS

If the board rejects his recommendation, Erickson said the board should remove Trump’s name from the primary ballot based on evidence presented at a hearing last Friday that he said "proves by a preponderance of the evidence that President Trump engaged in insurrection, within the meaning of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment."

"The evidence shows that President Trump understood the divided political climate in the United States. He understood and exploited that climate for his own political gain by falsely and publicly claiming the election was stolen from him, even though every single piece of evidence demonstrated that his claim was demonstrably false," Erickson wrote.

"He used these false claims to garner further political support for his own benefit by inflaming the emotions of his supporters to convince them that the election was stolen from him and that American democracy was being undermined. He understood the context of the events of Jan. 6, 2021, because he created the climate. At the same time he engaged in an elaborate plan to provide lists of fraudulent electors to Vice President (Mike) Pence for the express purpose of disrupting the peaceful transfer of power following an election."

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Erickson specifically cited as "absolutely damning" for Trump's denial of participating in an insurrection "the tweet regarding Mike Pence's lack of courage while (Trump) knew the attacks were going on."

The stakes of the Supreme Court ruling

The US Supreme Court has already agreed to hear oral arguments on February 8 in an appeal of a 4-3 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court in December that Trump is disqualified from holding the office of the presidency and blocking his name on the state’s primary ballot.

That decision will decide the fate of similar challenges in 10 other states, including Maine, where the ballot ban imposed on Trump by the secretary of state has been put on hold.

Trump and his campaign have labeled ballot challenges under the 14th Amendment as efforts by "Radical Left Communists, Marxists, and Fascists, to again steal an Election."

Cover photo: Collage: REUTERS & IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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