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Not enough

Friday, Apr 19, 2013

* If passed, this would be a long overdue change, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem

Incumbents are one step closer to losing the power to kick opponents off suburban ballots after a proposal cleared an initial hurdle in the Illinois Senate.

The measure would abolish the controversial, 120-year-old system of local election panels that critics say allows a suburb’s incumbent politicians to unfairly settle an election by clearing the ballot of rivals on technicalities.

After years of inaction in the General Assembly, a state Senate committee voted 11-2 Wednesday to move the measure to the floor.

The vote came a month after a Tribune investigation found the system riddled with conflicts of interest and questionable rulings that led to fewer choices for tens of thousands of suburban voters.

The Tribune found that at least 200 municipal candidates faced ballot-access objections this year, most of them alleging paperwork errors in candidate petition filings. With the panels, local incumbents get to rule on whether those infractions warrant kicking candidates off the ballot for thousands of municipal, township, school board and community college offices.

Of the 76 candidates removed from the ballot this year by panels, the Tribune found that most fell at the hands of panels stacked with members who had a political stake in the decisions.

What’s really needed, however, is some clear and precise legislative clarifications about what, exactly should disqualify ballot petitions. Too much interpretation is left to local boards and the courts, and we wind up with wildly conflicting rules.

* For example, in some areas, using paperclips to fasten petitions sheets together will disqualify petitions. In other areas, paperclips are fine.

This stuff happens all the time and it’s just plain goofy. All it’s doing is making money for lawyers.

Legislators love the ambiguities for obvious reasons - they generally have the money to keep themselves out of trouble and on the ballot. Their opponents often don’t.

Handing this responsibility over to county panels won’t be nearly enough. We need better regulations.

* And it’s not just petitions. In some counties, if you withdraw from a campaign after the ballot printing deadline, votes for you won’t be counted. In other counties, those votes are counted.

Legislators and/or the State Board of Elections need to step up here.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Amalia - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:12 am:

    yes! now wondering what the clerk of the township does…. for that matter, what township officials really do much of anyway.
    (hey state legislators, please give that some thoughts.) between their pay, their attachment to state pensions, their health benefits, could we not save taxpayers some money that could be better spent if we reduced the benefits of township trustees? as we watch flooding and law enforcement in action, we know money is needed elsewhere.

  2. - Attorney Wannabe - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:14 am:

    It’s a little misleading from your excerpt, and maybe the article itself. People on the ballot cannot sit on the electoral boards. Nevertheless, they do have a strong interest in the matters and no doubt have biases that may come out.

    There’s a bunch of bureaucratic stuff that has to happen for these hearings as well. So not only are some potential biases eliminated, I imagine the whole process will be greatly streamlined, hopefully eliminating back and forth ballot removals at the last minute.

  3. - Louis G. Atsaves - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:15 am:

    I was in the middle of two of these contest “things” during the last consolidated elections. Both were complete Kangaroo courts and the Tribune article hit home on the problems presented.

    First time candidates who “regulars” want off the ballot are like lambs being lead to the slaughter before this process.

    Guidelines need to be established on how signatures are ruled upon (R. Gordon gets disqualified but Robert Gordon passes muster in one hearing but not the other?) and other issues. Appeals process to the circuit court is by 5 day proof of notice certified or registered mail, instead of personal service, which is more reliable than mail. Two different circuit courts in two different counties treated appeals differently, both in how they were to be filed, and who gets to hear them.

    Give. Me. A. Break. The current set up makes a complete mockery of our current election process.

  4. - RNUG - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:23 am:


    People like township clerks and trustees, if they have benefits and pensions, would be members of IMRF, not one of the state systems (unless they also happened to be employed by the state or school). Yes, you might save some money, but that’s local / township money, not state money.

  5. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    Ridiculous rules motivated at keeping people off the ballot are just as bad as those motivated to keep people from voting.

    They’re both inherently undemocratic and disenfranchising.

  6. - Amalia - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:35 am:

    @RNUG, I’m for saving money for governments generally. as for which pension fund is which, when you are just a voter, it still makes one angry when you watch people playing various systems. why part time officials with few duties would have access to a pension is beyond me. someone somewhere should do something about it.

  7. - Tommydanger - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:40 am:

    I’ve sat on these boards that have ruled on challenges. As a candidate I have also challenged other people’s petitions and have had people removed from the ballot. I have also had my petitions challenged as a candidate. The system is overdue for an overhaul. The legislation is a step in the right direction.

  8. - Esquire - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:51 am:

    The process can be improved, but sending cases to the County Officers Electoral Board (as often advocated by Cook County Clerk David Orr) is not the answer. Many election jurisdictions are too small to warrant the creation of full-time Election Boards (like Chicago and other cities have).

    The best approach is to adopt self-explanatory rules setting forth when a city or village officeholder MUST recuse himself or herself from serving on an electoral board and apply to the Circuit Court for the appointment of a public member (drawn from a list of qualified lawyers familiar with the Election Code).

  9. - Downstate Illinois - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:07 am:

    Rich you are absolutely correct. Lawmakers really need to write clearer laws on ballot access. Equal protection under the law gets thrown out in these cases.

    As to townships, eliminate them. There’s no reason for them to exist except that too many families feed at the political trough.

  10. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:11 am:

    Great idea to get rid of the arcania.

    I have sat on the Boards and always leaned toward inclusion rather than exclusion. Not everyone may behave that way.

    That said, there is a value in a fair set of rules such as number of registered voters being followed to demonstrate the candidate is serious.

    Our area still has petition parties where folks simply fake signatures for candidates.

  11. - Just Me - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:19 am:

    Legislators step up? Are you kidding me?!?! This is Illinois.

  12. - onevoter - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    This kangaroo court system was in place in Riverdale, Illinois. The citizens were left with two inferior candidates to choose from.

  13. - Esquire - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:28 am:

    It is not merely how clear the election laws are, it is how the judges apply the laws. Serious candidates need to know the case law too.

    Another good area for possible revision: clarify the requirements for filing a valid objection and permit candidates who have to defend purely frivolous objections the opportunity to recover attorney’s fees and costs. Many objections are undertaken for purposes of harassment and have little or no basis in fact or law. It sometimes works as uninformed candidates drop out without fighting. If someone files an objection that is not well founded or meritorious, make them pay.

  14. - titan - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 11:40 am:

    I think you’re absolutely correct in concept, but need to keep in mind that it is solely the General Assembly that needs to step on this. The State Board of Elections has absolutely no power over local electoral boards, how they function, or whether this task should be shifted over to the county (which they really should, the Trib article providing all the data needed to see why).

    The County Officers Electoral Board is comprised of the County Clerk, the States Attorney and the Circuit Court Clerk (or the “designee” of any of them in the actual officer’s place). That gives you the election authority for the jurisdiction and at least one lawyer, along with the court colerk (who presumably would be at least somewhat comfortable with this type of proceeding). They would give much more professional and consistent results than the current set up.

    Smaller counties might well experience a little adjustment pain in the switchover, but those counties would also have fewer objections to deal with than a large county. If the 3 county officers don’t want to do the nuts and bolts work (and don’t have staff designees up to the task), it is also possible to conduct the proceedings largely through hearing officers who do all the heavy lifting.

  15. - Just Observing - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 1:02 pm:

    Long overdue!

  16. - reformer - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 1:32 pm:

    There is more than one problem with petitions, but this Senate bill can at least end the outrageous conflicts of interest that almost always exist on local election boards. These officials typically rule on the petitions of candidates running against their allies, with objections made by those allies.

    If a judge had such flagrant conflicts, he’d recuse himself. Kudos to the 11 Senators who recognize that reform in this regard is overdue.

  17. - Jon Zahm - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 3:47 pm:

    I dealt with kangaroo courts in South Elgin and the City of Colona this year. Only because my clients had the money to hire attorneys to take the cases to court were the decisions overturned by Circuit judges. So this bill would solve that problem by kicking those cases to the County Officers Electoral Board where I would expect fair and competent rulings. At least in Kane and Henry Counties. To Rich’s point, I would like to see some clarification on binding (paper clips and binder clips should be insufficient) and pagination (should always be strictly required), among other issues.

  18. - Dan Johnson - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 3:57 pm:

    I think this is a big deal, bigger than what Rich thinks. The county boards are typically far more neutral than the local boards and get you a fairer result.

    FYI, Robin Kelly had a bill to do this in the House when she was there, but it stalled in the Senate.

    I think Senator Biss and all the Senators who supported the bill (particularly leadership that moved the bill) should get some congratulations. I hope this one goes through this year. And I think Senator Murphy should vote for it on the floor…(I think he wasn’t fully briefed on this issue before it came up in Exec).

  19. - Hmmm - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 4:04 pm:

    Re: “the current County Clerk. . .”

    Orr has seldom taken part in county electoral board proceedings. He is not a lawyer like former Clerk Stanley Kusper. Kusper used to chair the electoral board and was experienced in the field. Orr uses a designated lawyer as his substitute. Most Cook County Officers do not participate, choosing subordinates to sit in their places, but Aurelia Pucinski used to attend sessions when she was the Circuit Court Clerk.

    I wonder how far this legislation will actually advance? The current system has served Madigan well and he has a top election lawyer (Michael Kasper) at the ready to do his bidding. Madigan’s organization challenges many petitions in the city and suburbs and defends other candidates (like Rahm Emanuel and Deb Mell) when it suits its purposes.

  20. - Jake from Elwood - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 4:16 pm:

    Why does the Tribune have to include the line about renewing the subscription? I would wager that most of us read this for the first time from the hyperlink in this post.

  21. - Fan of the Game - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 4:28 pm:


    - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    Ridiculous rules motivated at keeping people off the ballot are just as bad as those motivated to keep people from voting.

    They’re both inherently undemocratic and disenfranchising.

  22. - Just The Way It Is One - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 4:38 pm:

    Yes–CONSISTent and consistently-APPLLIED State-wide Regulations are what is needed here!! “Legislators and/or the State Board of Elections need to step up here.” A hearty “Amen” to THAT idea!!!

  23. - Ahoy! - Friday, Apr 19, 13 @ 4:42 pm:

    clarifications would be good as well as requiring independent candidates to gather the same amount of signatures as party candidates, I can’t believe that hasn’t been challenged in the courts.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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