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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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Eugene Volokh

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