"Watch Philadelphia. Watch St. Louis. Watch Chicago, watch Chicago. Watch so many other places."
— Donald Trump, urging followers at a Tuesday rally in Colorado to be on the lookout for voter fraud and other corruption of the election process.
Did you giggle when you heard the Republican nominee for president say that America's election process is "rigged"? And when he warned about insiders stealing the election process, did you convulse with laughter? Of course, you did. You're from Illinois. You know that what's corrupt often is perfectly legal. That's the real outrage.
Many of Trump's allegations are fantastic, impossible. He's wrong — although Trump never minds being wrong. On this he's something he never wants to be: clueless. He thinks manipulating how elections operate is about winning one race. No, the masters at this art — in Chicago, in Illinois — think about keeping control for endless decades.
Elections in Illinois often do feel rigged — not in the ballot-box-stuffing, dead-people-voting, fraudulent-numbers-tabulation types of chicanery that Trump implies could tilt the presidential election on Nov. 8. He's bluffing on that.
But if you think the political process in this state represents pure unadulterated democracy, we've got a flag pin for your lapel and a turnip truck with room for passengers.
Illinois politicians in power write laws to keep themselves in power. Just getting on the ballot is a challenge — by design. The Democrats, because they're in charge, oversee the election code and insert plenty of tripwires that disqualify challengers. Even candidates who follow the rules with precision can get tossed from the ballot if attorneys get involved and the goal is exhaustion: Exhaust the time, money and resources of opponents before the campaign even begins.
In the last few years, the Democratic-controlled legislature has changed the election code and required more signatures for independent candidates; toughened criteria for petition circulators and write-in candidates; made it harder to know when vacancies on the ballot occur; capped signature requirements for legislative candidates — all to make it more difficult for newcomers to run for office.
Even if candidates survive ballot challenges, they still face obstacles.
Often in Illinois, then, electioneering is a protection racket for incumbents. Many of them essentially get to run unopposed:
• We've seen foot soldiers for both major parties collect petition signatures for General Assembly candidates who don't seem to be real candidates at all. No websites. No fundraising. No campaign apparatus. And wouldn't you know it? An address for a candidate at an abandoned house.
• We've seen both parties recruit candidates with similar names to confuse voters. Suddenly, a candidate with the last name Lewis finds himself running against another candidate with the last name Lewis. Split the vote. Confuse voters. Propel the party loyalist into office.
Remember when rivals of then-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. managed to find a truck driver named Jesse Jackson to run against him? Was that snicker-worthy political shenanigans? Or was it what Trump alleges: rigging the system?
• We've seen wild allegations during campaign season, mostly but not exclusively from the Democratic Party of Illinois, claiming GOP candidates are pro-rapist, anti-senior citizen, pro-child abuse. Yes, those disgusting lies have shown up on campaign fliers mailed to voters to trash opponents. Politics as blood sport or an attempt to rig outcomes?
Then there's redistricting, which voters overwhelmingly want to reform, yet which typifies the fix-is-in system in Illinois. Shamefully gerrymandered districts nearly ensure incumbent protection in districts statewide. Changing the process through grass-roots initiatives has proven to be undoable. The powerful do have ways of keeping power. Blocking remap reform — and term limits, for that matter — demonstrates that. You'll notice neither issue on your ballot Nov. 8.
Yes, Trump fear-mongers by claiming widespread vote fraud among a conspiratorial, pro-Hillary Clinton election system, with the news media in on the plot. Members of his own party have rebutted his unproven, exaggerated, sometimes absurd claims.
But Trump's use of the word "rigged" hardly warrants gasps of indignation.
In Illinois, we've come pretty close to it.