Kadner: State election form causes problems
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org January 17, 2013 11:06PM
A view of Prairie State College Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at 202 S. Halsted St. in Chicago Heights. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 3:09PM
This is a story about something that seems very wrong.
In Calumet City and at Prairie State College, candidates running for mayor, alderman and college trustee face removal from the election ballot because they used a written form supplied by the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The key issue in each case seems to be that the form, known as a statement of candidacy, lacked the words “who to me is personally known” near a notary public’s signature.
Whether or not the notary knew the candidate seems to be irrelevant — at least to the election board in Calumet City, which includes incumbents who apparently want to remove any opposition before the April 9 city election.
I say it doesn’t matter because a lawyer representing Victor Green, a candidate for mayor, said he submitted a sworn statement to the election board, signed by a notary saying he knew Green, had a copy of his driver’s license and that Green had personally appeared before him.
Adam Lasker, the attorney who represented Green and aldermanic candidate Hope Allen before Calumet City’s election board, said Steven Laduzinsky knew the candidates because he was their attorney when he notarized their forms.
Nevertheless, the city election board upheld challenges to the petitions of Green and Allen as well as some others, on the advice of its attorney, Burton Odelson, one of the top election lawyers in Illinois.
As I’ve said in previous columns, the system that allows municipal and school board officials to sit in judgment of political opponents on election challenges appears unfair on its face.
Cook County Clerk David Orr has asked the Legislature to empower a Cook County election panel to oversee such disputes, but due to pressure from incumbent mayors and school boards no such law has been passed.
A spokesman for the Illinois Election Board admitted that the election form it supplied to candidates failed to include the proper language.
“We should consider changing the election code to match up with our forms,” the spokesman said.
Lasker, who is appealing the Calumet City board’s ruling in Cook County Circuit Court, said the fact that the state board’s form didn’t include the language in the election code probably won’t help his clients.
There are court rulings, he said, that make it clear that an election board is not considered the final authority in such matters. The law is the law.
But Lasker believes the law is on the side of his clients because it reads that the form “shall be substantially in the following (language).” Judges have held that “substantially” means the wording need not be exactly the same as the law suggests.
In addition, Lasker contends that the Illinois Notary Act, which is the state law governing all notarizations, provides that the form merely read, “signed and sworn (or affirmed) to before me on (the date)” and contain the name of the person making the statement.
That’s his legal argument. I’m guessing Odelson will have his own, but my attempts to contact him for this column failed.
Regardless of the legal arguments, I contend that common sense tells you what’s right and wrong here.
Prairie State’s election board has delayed a ruling on similar challenges to candidates for its board until a court makes a determination in the Calumet City case.
I am told the attorney for the person filing the objections in the Prairie State College case is a member of Odelson’s law firm. That seems to be the common denominator in these cases.
Lasker told me that a candidate facing such challenges to his form and petitions could expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 for legal representation. He refused to say how much he was charging his clients.
He said a lawyer appearing before a local election board might charge $2,000 because he would have to set the basis for a legal defense in court if an election board tried to knock his candidate off the ballot. A court appearance would cost $2,000 to $3,000 more.
Most people running for local school boards and suburban municipal races are not professional politicians. They are working stiffs who want to do their civic duty and make things better in their communities.
I don’t want to discourage people from running, but petition challenges are part of the intimidation factor used by incumbents to discourage opposition. Such objections force candidates to expend time, money and energy to remain on the ballot that could be put to better use campaigning.
There are real issues worthy of voter concern in Calumet City and at Prairie State College.
The Better Government Association has reported that Mayor Michelle Qualkinbush’s pay and benefits top $180,000 annually — including a $74,194 salary, $20,000 bonus, $500,000 life insurance policy with an annual premium of more than $20,000, an expense account, pension fund contributions and a vehicle allowance. Aldermanic pay and benefits top $56,000, the BGA reported.
At Prairie State College, the board’s chairman, Jacqueline Agee, has been accused of arranging to get her stepfather to an $80,000-plus a year job.
Agee is running with another candidate for two trustee spots in April, but four other trustee candidates have been challenged because of that notary language.
The Calumet City election includes a Feb. 26 primary, so any court ruling will give the county clerk only a short time to make sure the proper names are on the ballot.
Ordinary citizens should be allowed to rely on the Illinois Election Board’s form to run for office.
It shouldn’t require a lawyer to run for a suburban office.
There’s right and wrong. And this seems wrong.