Underdog with hard-to-spell name launches write-in campaign against Madigan

CHICAGO -- An underdog challenging Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in a party election was kicked off the ballot, so he's launching an independent write-in campaign. There’s just one problem: Mat Tomkowiak's name is pretty tricky to spell.

"I feel a duty to carry this out. Hundreds of voters signed petitions to help me get on the ballot, and I don’t want their voices to be erased,” Tomkowiak said.

The 31-year-old, openly gay, Polish immigrant and Princeton PhD candidate says all he wanted to do was run for political office, but in Illinois it’s been an uphill battle every step of the way.

Tomkowiak was trying to go head-to-head against Mike Madigan for third district central committeeman when lawyers for Madigan challenged his petitions. They claimed the signatures he collected were fake, even though he says he had signed affidavits from voters and video evidence of him going door to door. He was kicked off the ballot a couple of weeks ago.

Election lawyers say they are seeing more petition challenges this election cycle than ever before, making it even more difficult for upstart candidates. A spokesperson for Madigan says Tomkowiak didn’t follow the rules and that’s why he was kicked off the ballot.

Now he is focusing on a nearly-impossible write-in campaign. At the Halsted Orange Line station Sunday, Tomkowiak was trying to teach his neighbors how to spell his last name so they could add it to their ballot.

"My parents blessed me with a name that only they can spell, unfortunately,” he said.

While teaching neighbors how to spell his name, he's spelling something out for voters as well, calling the election system in Illinois "corrupt."

"Elections should not be decided in backrooms by lawyers and appointed bureaucrats; people should have a voice,” Tomkowiak said.