The U.S. Supreme Court restored an all-black political party to Cook County ballots Thursday pending a hearing on whether the party was improperly removed by the state Supreme Court.
The decision sent election officials scrambling to reprint ballots in time for the Nov. 6 election. It also stirred Democratic fears that the Harold Washington Party, should it remain on the ballot, might improve the chances of Republican victories in a number of close races, including the governorship.
In briefs to the high court, Harold Washington Party officials argued that the Illinois Supreme Court had been “politically influenced” when it bounced the party off the ballot two weeks ago.
The state court’s vote was split 4 to 3 along partisan lines, with Democrats voting to oust the party on the grounds that it had failed to get enough signatures on its nominating petitions from suburban areas.
The decision Thursday at least temporarily restores an earlier decision by the Cook County Board of Elections that all Washington Party candidates should be on the ballot except those running in county townships for county commissioner seats.
“The Supreme Court decision today now offers African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans and all fair-minded Americans a viable, significant, meaningful alternative,” said R. Eugene Pincham, a former Illinois appellate judge and the party’s titular head. “We’re going to win this election.”
The cash-strapped party actually is given little chance of winning many county-wide elections. By siphoning black voters away from the Democrats, though, it could help Republicans get elected.
Some party organizers, in fact, have endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Edgar, who is embroiled in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Neil F. Hartigan. At a party convention Sunday, party leaders urged voters to target Hartigan and four other Democrats for defeat, whether or not the Washington party remained on the ballot.
Those leaders contend that the Democrats have neglected the black community. Several of the candidates targeted, including Hartigan, were involved in a 1987 white-based third party attempt to thwart the reelection of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington, for which the party is named.
“I’m concerned,” said Cecil A. Partee, incumbent Cook County state’s attorney who is the only black candidate targeted by the party for defeat. “I’m not oblivious to the fact that it could make a difference.”
Election preparations in Cook County had been halted since Monday while the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to hear claims by the Washington Party that its constitutional rights were violated. The printing of ballots--minus Harold Washington Party candidates--had almost been completed when election preparations were frozen.