Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176570
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Candidates must file petitions to prove community support before they can be put on the ballot.


Candidates' petitions subject to more scrutiny than their objectors’

by Diana Novak
Jan 19, 2011


Much of the attention in the upcoming aldermanic election has been on challenges to candidates’ paperwork. Meanwhile, few have looked at the objectors’ paperwork.

One notary public is trying to turn the tables. She found that it’s easier to kick candidates off the ballot than it is to get them on.

Candidates must collect signatures from their wards to prove that they have the community’s support in their bid.

Objection paperwork can list problems with the candidate’s petition from the significant, such as signatures collected outside of the candidate’s district, to seemingly minor errors such as unnumbered pages in the petition or small discrepancies in petition language.

Challenges, if approved by the Board of Election Commissioners in Chicago, can keep a candidate off the ballot.

Jacquelyn Hathaway, a notary public who worked with 39th Ward candidate Matthew Robertson, discovered alterations in an objector’s paperwork that hadn’t been properly approved by the signers.

“Altering a document after it has been notarized may be considered forging an official document,” she said.

She saw typographical errors corrected with pen in the objection paperwork filed against Robertson. The corrections were initialed by the attorney representing the objectors, but not by the objectors themselves.

“All parties that signed that document have to acknowledge the error after the fact, and none of the parties that signed that document acknowledged it,” Hathaway said, citing a rule in the Illinois Notary Public Act.

She has asked the Board of Election Commissioners to throw out those objections.

Thomas Jaconetty, an election attorney representing more than 20 objections including the one against Robertson, said this type of correction is very common and typically forgiven during the hearing process.

“In the election law context, when you are dealing with objector’s petitions or candidate petitions, errors [like this] very seldom go towards the destruction of the document,” he said.

Jaconetty also noted that Hathaway could not know if the correction happened before or after the document had been notarized.

Hearings on objections can last for weeks, making it difficult for candidates to campaign.

Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said challenges generally set the candidates back in terms of time and resources.

The challenged candidates are typically “either going to be thrown off by the board or tied up in court cases instead of reaching voters,” Simpson said.

Robertson, the 39th Ward aldermanic candidate, has completely changed his campaign strategy as a result of these objections.

“We are moving on as a write-in candidate, so all of my literature and effort is going toward that goal,” Robertson said. “They were just continuously challenging our signatures. We could not spend any more money tied up in court fighting this.”

Objections to two candidates with corrections made by Jaconetty have already been upheld, meaning the candidates will not be on the ballot. Three more, including Robertson, are awaiting a decision. More than 100 candidates have been taken off the ballot since hearings began in December.

David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, says neither challenges nor candidates’ petitions should be tossed out over typographical errors.

“The process of petitioning your way on to the ballot and then challenging petitions is the way the state of Illinois protects the integrity of the ballot,” Morrison said. “If you were to throw out a challenge based on something like [a typographical error] instead of the merits of the complaint, that would defeat the whole purpose of the challenge.”

The solution is to change the law regarding those minute details -- and not to apply those minute details to challenges as well.”