Electoral board delays action on latest objections to mayoral candidates
January 10, 2017
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The Evanston electoral board will decide Wednesday on recent ballot objections filed by mayoral candidate Jeff Smith (Weinberg ’77), pushing back its decision following a three-hour meeting on Monday.
Smith, who announced his candidacy in early December, challenged the nominating petitions of the four other candidates in the race: Ald. Brian Miller (9th), Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), businessman Steve Hagerty and former Evanston Township Supervisor Gary Gaspard. This is the second time the electoral board has heard objections to nominating papers. In December, the board threw out objections to Hagerty’s and Gaspard’s filing papers. A third objection filed against Tendam was withdrawn before the December hearing.
On Monday, the board heard objections from Smith, who alleged the other candidates had improperly informed voters of which election they were petitioning for or had filed for the wrong election.
Although the original filing dates were set for December, Miller filed his petitions in November, citing a 1992 Evanston referendum that mandated a primary be held if more than two candidates were in a race.
Smith, who filed in December, alleged he was the only candidate to file at the correct time and for the correct election, and said that Miller’s attempts to bring up the 1992 referendum were detrimental to the electoral process.
“The idea that people prepare a campaign and prepare to file and at the last minute someone pulls some … piece of history out of a dusty closet … what could be more prejudicial to ballot access than that,” he said. “The idea that when it comes to our own government and our own elections, that we can be loosy goosy is ridiculous.”
Miller maintained that the referendum should be adhered to as law.
Smith filed four separate petitions against the other candidates. For Miller and Tendam, Smith alleged they erred in not indicating a party affiliation on their petitions, as well as an unclear election date. In his objection to Hagerty’s petitions, Smith said the candidate did not indicate the proper election when circulating petitions. Smith objected to similar issues with Gaspard’s petitions, in that the former Evanston Township supervisor filed for the wrong election.
Smith said he understood candidates and city officials could make a small mistake on nominating petitions, but that the issues he referenced were too big to ignore. Additionally, Smith said voters were being disadvantaged by the confusion surrounding the balloting process.
“There’s no way you can find that all these petitions are proper,” he said.
Smith, who filed as an independent, also said having to hold a primary would limit his rights. City Clerk Rodney Greene announced last month the city would hold the primary on Feb. 28 and later told The Daily that the decision was based on state law rather than the 1992 referendum.
“The whole point of an independent candidacy is to petition directly onto the ballot itself, and to foist a non-partisan primary that was not explicitly explained to voters, would be the type of deceptive and non self-executing referendums that courts have overruled,” he said.
Smith also alleged the other candidates had verified that the December filing period was correct by not objecting to his petitions. Ed Mullen, a lawyer representing Tendam, disagreed and said Smith’s objections were limiting ballot access.
“One of the justifications Smith used for clarifying law is that turnout will be better if law is clear, but I would argue turnout would be better if people had five candidates to choose from,” he said.
James Nally, an attorney for Hagerty, alleged Smith filed his objections past the proper date. City code holds objections must be filed five business days after the end of the filing period. Smith filed his objections in late December, five days after the December filing period, but too late for the November filing period. Mally also urged the board to uphold the decisions they had previously made on Hagerty’s and Gaspard’s petitions.
Nally said Smith did not provide enough evidence for the board to uphold his objections.
“Burden of the objector is to not just provide questions, but also clear evidence,” he said. “(Smith) raised a lot of questions, but he has not provided any answers.”
The board will reconvene Wednesday morning to decide on the objections.