Pe­ti­tion ob­jec­tions used as a ‘po­lit­i­cal hit’

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FromChicagoHeights to Tin­ley Park, po­ten­tial can­di­dates for pub­lic of­fice through­out the South­land have hurled ac­cu­sa­tions of shenani­gans and al­le­ga­tions of po­lit­i­cal dirty tricks over the last twoweeks.

As theApril 2 con­sol­i­dated elec­tion ap­proaches, lo­cal of­fi­cials have gath­ered in sev­eral south sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties to con­duct an of­ten over­looked and mis­un­der­stood part of the demo­cratic process.

Mu­nic­i­pal elec­toral boards have met to de­cide for­mal ob­jec­tions to nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tions filed by can­di­dates seek­ing pub­lic of­fice. Boards have heard ob­jec­tions in ChicagoHeights, Floss­moor, Homer Glen, Markham, Mat­te­son, Or­land Park and Tin­ley Park.

An elec­toral board in Cook County is con­sid­er­ing ob­jec­tions to dozens of can­di­dates for lo­cal school boards through­out the south suburbs and other re­gions of the county.

Po­lit­i­cal new­com­ers chal­leng­ing in­cum­bents in power of­ten cry “foul” when­may­ors, clerks and trustees who sit on elec­toral boards de­cide the fate of ob­jec­tions.

Crit­ics of­ten ques­tion the in­tegrity of elec­toral board mem­bers and their abil­ity to de­cide dis­putes in an ob­jec­tive and im­par­tial man­ner. Some be­lieve ob­jec­tions are ev­i­dence of an un­fair or “rigged” po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

In most cases, elec­toral board mem­bers typ­i­cally are not ex­perts in elec­tion law.

“I can as­sure you ev­ery­body on

this panel is not happy to be here, butwe’re go­ing to do our job,” Floss­moor Mayor Paul Braun told an au­di­ence of about 50 res­i­dentsWed­nes­day as he chaired an elec­toral board meet­ing.

“We sit here not as­mayor, clerk and trustees” but as ju­rors, he said.

Alawyer al­most al­ways ad­vises elec­toral boards. Of­ten, the vil­lage or city at­tor­ney serves as coun­sel and pro­vides in­for­ma­tion about re­quire­ments for seek­ing pub­lic of­fice. Pe­ti­tion chal­lenges are com­mon in elec­tions, though rare in some towns.

The pro­cess­may seem un­fa­mil­iar to can­di­dates who de­fend them­selves from­claims by ob­jec­tors who are rep­re­sented by at­tor­neys. Some de­fend the sys­tem by say­ing if a can­di­date can­not fol­lowthe rules for fil­ing pe­ti­tions, that per­son is un­fit to vote on or­di­nances, de­cide how tax­payer dol­lars are spent and other du­ties of pub­lic of­fice.

Some­times, ob­jec­tions seem to hinge on in­ter­pre­ta­tions of vague­word­ing within the Illi­nois Elec­tion Code.

Illi­nois leg­is­la­tors, it seems, could have done a bet­ter job, at times, writ­ing elec­tion rules that are clear and easy to fol­low. Judges, in­stead of law­mak­ers, seem to de­ter­mine many of the rules. Dis­putes over in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the Elec­tion Code of­ten lead to law­suits. At­tor­neys for can­di­dates and ob­jec­tors of­ten cite case lawto ar­gue on be­half of a po­si­tion.

State lawde­fines elec­toral boards as “quasi-ju­di­cial” pro­ceed­ings, mean­ing they’re sort of like ap­pear­ing in court, but not quite. Home­wood-based at­tor­ney Pa­trick­Keat­ing, rep­re­sent­ing trustee can­di­dateDavid Bruni in Floss­moor Wednes­day, at one point ar­gued that elec­toral boards have broad dis­cre- tion to de­cide whether pe­ti­tions thatwere not “neatly fas­tened” were still in “sub­stan­tial com­pli­ance” with the law.

“The case lawis so all over the map that this board can do what­ever it wants,” Keat­ing ar­gued. “This is a quasi-le­gal, quasi-po­lit­i­cal pro­ceed­ing.”

Keat­ing is among a pa­rade of lawyers rep­re­sent­ing can­di­dates and ob­jec­tors who have ap­peared at re­cent pro­ceed­ings. In ChicagoHeights, at­tor­ney Michael Kasper re­cently made a brief ap­pear­ance to de­fend a chal­lenge to the can­di­dacy of May­orDavid Gon­za­lez. Kasper is gen­eral coun­sel and trea­surer of the Demo­cratic Party of Illi­nois.

The ChicagoHeights elec­toral board tossed three­would-be­may­oral chal­lengers off the bal­lot, leav­ing Gon­za­lez un­op­posed in­April. The board also over­ruled the ob­jec­tion to Gon­za­lez’s pe­ti­tions.

An­other heavy­weight in the field of elec­tion law ap­peared in­Markham on Wednes­day. Burt Odel­son of Ev­er­green Park-based Odel­son& Sterk coun­seled May­orRoger Ag­pawa and the elec­toral board as it met to con­sider ob­jec­tions to pe­ti­tions filed by can­di­dates for trustee.

I asked Odel­son about a 2012 non­bind­ing opin­ion is­sued byAt­tor­ney Gen­eral LisaMadi­gan that said elec­toral board pro­ceed­ingswere sub­ject to re­quire­ments of the Open Meet­ingsAct. The at­tor­ney gen­eral wrote that elec­toral boards should al­lowop­por­tu­nity for pub­lic com­ment. Markham’s elec­toral board did not pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic com­ment on its agenda.

“That’s the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s opin­ion,” Odel­son said. He meant that’s all it is— an opin­ion. It doesn’t carry theweight of case law.

An as­sis­tant with Odel­son chimed in that al­low­ing elec­toral board mem- bers to hear opin­ions ex­pressed by mem­bers of the pub­lic could prej­u­dice the panel be­fore it de­cides a case.

I pointed out that in Floss­moor, the elec­toral board heard pub­lic com­ment at the end of its meet­ing, af­ter de­lib­er­a­tions.

Tin­ley Park’s elec­toral board also heard pub­lic com­ments Fri­day. The vil­lage of 56,000 res­i­dents was in­cor­po­rated in 1892. Only once pre­vi­ously in the vil­lage’s his­tory has an elec­toral board met to con­sider pe­ti­tion ob­jec­tions, and that­was for a ref­er­en­dum, Mayor Ja­cob Van­den­berg said.

“We’re mak­ing his­tory,” Vil­lageAt­tor­ney Patrick Con­nelly said.

Eight peo­ple filed pe­ti­tions for three seats on the Tin­ley ParkVil­lage Board. Three peo­ple— Christo­pherMu­gavero, Kim­berly Mu­gavero and Pa­tri­cia John­son— col­lec­tively filed ob­jec­tions to the pe­ti­tions of in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates Brian Godlewski, Jef­freyMech and Christo­pherCwik.

“This is all a po­lit­i­cal hit job,” Cwik told the board.

One of the ob­jec­tors, Christo­pherMu­gavero, signedCwik’s nom­i­nat­ing pe­ti­tion and is not a reg­is­tered voter at the ad­dress he claimed, Cwik said. The ob­jec­tion­may be in­valid if Me­gavero ob­jected to his own sig­na­ture, said elec­toral board mem­ber Thomas Ja­conetty.

Scott Erd­man, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the ob­jec­tors, said even if one ob­jec­tor­was in­val­i­dated, two po­ten­tially valid ob­jec­tors re­mained.

They de­cided to ask clerks in Cook andWill coun­ties to ex­am­ine the pe­ti­tions. The board will re­con­vene at 4 p.m. Jan. 15 to con­sider the find­ings.

Cwik said he spent months go­ing door to door col­lect­ing sig­na­tures.

“Iwas born and raised here,” he said. “I think it’s a shame the three (inde- pen­dent can­di­dates) got hit by a cer­tain po­lit­i­cal en­tity in town.”

Cwik claimed the slate of OneTin­ley Park can­di­dateswas be­hind the ob­jec­tions. Other can­di­dates are run­ning as the Con­cerned Cit­i­zens slate.

James Doyle, a res­i­dent who spoke dur­ing pub­lic com­ment, said kick­ing can­di­dates off the bal­lot would do a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers.

“The more the bet­ter,” Doyle said. “Vot­ers need to have as many op­tions as pos­si­ble.… The ob­jec­tions have an air of su­per-silli­ness to them.”

Ja­conetty said hewas ap­pointed to Tin­ley Park’s board by the chief judge of CookCounty be­cause of po­ten­tial ap­pear­ances of con­flict. Typ­i­cally, trustees or al­der­men with the most ser­vice are the third mem­ber of an elec­toral board. But in the up­com­ing Tin­ley Park elec­tion, the most se­nior trusteeswere dis­qual­i­fied by statute from serv­ing on the elec­toral board, Ja­conetty said.

Ja­conetty rep­re­sented for­mer Cook County Asses­sor Joseph Berrios when Berrios chal­lenged the pe­ti­tions of Asses­sor Fritz Kaegi last year. Kaegi’s can­di­da­cy­was up­held and hewent on to de­feat Berrios in the 2018 Demo­cratic pri­mary.

Ja­conetty has pre­sented an­nual Chicago BarAs­so­ci­a­tion sem­i­nars on “Re­mov­ingYour Op­po­nent from the Bal­lot: Ob­jec­tions to Nom­i­na­tion Pa­pers.”

“The last sev­eral years they’ve castme in the role ofDarthVadar,” Ja­conetty joked.

Sem­i­nar ma­te­ri­als pub­lished on­line show­such tips as, “MythNo. 1: No one will no­tice,” and“Warn­ing No. 1: There are ex­pert po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions that de­light in dis­sect­ing your pe­ti­tions and turn­ing your life into ab­ject mis­ery.”

Ted Slowik

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