There's some question as to whether the Bush campaign has shot itself in the foot by scheduling the GOP political convention in September to exploit the horror of the Word Trade Center attacks -- the late convention date likely conflicts with Illinois state law on the deadline to certify established party candidates on the ballot. Eric Zorn wrote about this issue here, Jeff Trigg of Random Act of Kindness wrote about it here, and I wrote about it here.
Jeff wrote that if Bush needs to run as an independent in Illinois (because state law won't be changed to accommodate the exploitation of the September convention), then he'd better start petitioning now because the period for independents to appear on the November ballot of 2004 is from now (!) until December 15th -- the same time as candidates petitioning to appear on the March primary ballot. This is a ridiculous state law, as independents should petition after the March primary when they know who the major party candidates and then, presumably, have a reason to run as an independent. Thoughtful supporters of the existing law argue that because major party candidates need to be vetted through the March primary, it is appropriate for independents to shoulder the same early petitioning burden as major party candidates, since independents need not win a primary election. Senator Ira Silverstein (D- Far North Side of Chicago) is the most thoughtful legislator on that side of the argument that I've come across.
However, Jeff is incorrect when it comes to presidential candidates. Partially because of the national political impact of state ballot access laws for presidential campaigns, federal courts have pushed the deadline back for independent presidential candidates to the same time period as the deadline for new party candidates -- June 21, in Illinois. (One of my political heroes, John Anderson of Illinois and 1980 independent presidential candidate, successfully litigated this issue of early petition deadlines for independent presidential candidates to the Supreme Court in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 US 780 (1983)).
Bottom line: if Illinois Democrats stand firm and do not assist the Bush campaign by changing state law, and if the courts find that current state law does not permit candidate certification so late in the season, Bush can still run as an independent in Illinois until June 21. And with the corporate-lobbyist money machine the Bush partisans have built in DC, they can collect 25,000 signatures in a weekend by paying people to circulate.
(My source: the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners 2004 Election Calendar, page 10. The State Board of Elections' calendar doesn't include this, largely because they focus on the difficult process of delegate selection for the primary candidates, and, after all, the deadline isn't until the summer for independent candidates.)