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Local Electoral Board Decides to Keep All Mayoral Candidates on the Ballot

On Jan. 9, the City’s Local Electoral Board, comprised of Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, and City Clerk Rodney Greene, began hearings on Jeff Smith’s objections to the nominating papers of four candidates for Mayor: Gary Gaspard, Steve Hagerty, Alderman Brian Miller (9th Ward), and Alderman Mark Tendam (6th Ward). Mr. Smith filed nominating petitions to run for Mayor on Dec. 19.

While the factual and legal issues are complex, the essence of Mr. Smith’s objections is that each of the four candidates filed his nominating petitions in the Nov. 21-28 time period, rather than the Dec. 12-19 period. Mr. Smith alleges that the candidates filed in the wrong period and that their nominating petitions were flawed in several other respects.

Mr. Smith also argued that a referendum passed by the people of Evanston in 1992 is invalid. The referendum requires that a primary be held if more than two candidates have filed petitions to run for Mayor, and that the top two vote-getters move on to the regular election. If one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, then that candidate is deemed the Mayor.

The four other mayoral candidates argued that the proper filing period was Nov. 21-28 under both State law and the 1992 Referendum. They also argued that Mr. Smith filed his objections late, that the issues were already decided by the Electoral Board in a previous matter, and that, in equity, their nominating petitions should stand in light of statements on the City Clerk’s webpage that Nov. 21-28 was a time period in which their nominating petitions could be filed.

After hearing arguments on the issues for more than two hours on Jan. 9, the Local Election Board continued the matter to Jan. 11 for ruling.

On Jan. 11, the Local Electoral Board decided to overrule all of the objections filed by Mr. Smith. In discussing the reasons for their decision, Board members talked about confusion and policies favoring ballot access. Mayor Tisdahl said, “My feeling is that none of the issues raised rise to a level serious enough to deny ballot access to candidates or to the many voters who signed petitions for those candidates.”

The written decision says, “Because we overrule the objections on the basis of ballot access and equity, we need not consider the extraneous issues raised by Smith …”

While the Board decided in this particular case to keep all five Mayoral candidates on the ballot and to move forward with a primary election for the office of Mayor, the decision does not resolve many legal and factual issues that have caused confusion in this election cycle, including what are the proper filing dates for nominating petitions, whether the City’s elections are to be conducted on a “partisan” or “nonpartisan” basis, and what is the impact and status of the 1992 Referendum?

Mayor Tisdahl said, “I believe the Electoral Board should ask the Law Department to work with the City and to work with the City Clerk to answer all questions about the need for a primary and the Referendum, etc. No candidate should need to hire a lawyer or need to be a lawyer to run for public office in the City of Evanston.”

Mr. Smith told the RoundTable he had not yet decided whether he would seek review of the order in a court proceeding.

The Confusion About Filing Dates

Up until about Nov. 23, 2016, the City Clerk’s webpage (which is part of the City’s website) said candidates for Mayor, alderman, and City Clerk were to file nominating petitions during the period Dec. 12-19, 2016.

Whether this was the proper filing period came to a head when Ald. Miller and Tom Suffredin attempted to file nominating petitions to run for Mayor and Sixth Ward Alderman, respectively, on Nov. 22. Ald. Miller told the RoundTable that the Clerk’s Office was initially resistant to accept the filings, but that they were allowed to file.

Ald. Miller said he and his lawyer researched the issue and concluded the proper filing period was Nov. 21-28.

Because the Clerk’s website said the filing period was Dec. 12-19, Ald. Miller said he asked his attorneys to bring this up with the City’s Corporation Counsel to clear up any confusion about the dates. He said his attorneys, prior to Nov. 15, informed Clerk Greene and an attorney in the City’s law department that they believed that the Nov. 21-18 filing period was the correct one and left a voicemail message with Grant Farrar, the head of the City’s Law Department.

The City’s law department says it was precluded by ethical rules from providing an advisory opinion on the issue, and it declined to infringe on the City Clerk’s jurisdiction.

On Nov. 23, the Clerk’s website was changed to say, “Candidates can begin circulating petitions after September 20, 2016, and the filing period begins November 21-28, 2016. All petitions will be accepted up to and including December 19th as the last day to receive your petitions.”

On that same day, Clerk Greene prepared a memo addressed to the Mayor, City Council Aldermen, and Candidates for the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Election. The memo said, in part, “[T]he State Board of Elections instructed this office to accept petitions from the candidates who file petitions between November 21-28, 2016. The State Board says this is the filing period for candidates for a February 2017 primary election. The State Board advises a February 2017 primary is only needed if more than 4 candidates for an office file petitions.” See sidebar on primaries.

Despite the short notice and the intervening Thanksgiving Day weekend, by the close of business on Nov. 28, four people had filed petitions to run for Mayor, two filed for City Clerk, and 17 for Alderman. Clerk Greene filed his nominating petitions to run for City Clerk on Nov. 28.

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