Quick Hits – Nominating petition challenges 101

Quick Hits – Nominating petition challenges 101

I know this isn’t going to be the most scintillating column, but with President Trump unwittingly inspiring all sorts of new entries in the local electoral field, it’s certainly something worth covering.

Illinois’ onerous and twisted nominating petition requirements notwithstanding, with three fascinating St. Charles school board petition challenge scenarios in hand, I’ll do my damndest to make a rather dry subject appear to be a bit more engaging.

I do have skills!

And it starts with this very basic concept. Unless they can’t figure out what the heck you’re running for, it’s not up to the Local Election Authority – typically the county clerk – to police your paperwork. That means your signature sheets could be a complete and utter disaster, but unless a registered in-district voter challenges those errors, you’re good to go!


For example, when I worked for the Kane County Clerk, a young precinct committeeman candidate submitted a single signature sheet comprised only of out-of-district signators. Had his opponent (or some other interested party) failed to object within the allotted timeframe, despite that eminently fatal error, the errant candidate’s name would’ve graced the ballot.

The county clerk’s sole purpose here is to collect and store those petitions, a critical concept in determining whether you have solid grounds for a petition challenge. And as you will soon see, our D303 objector could saved herself a lot of time and effort had she understood this very basic precept.

Apparently displeased with the Board’s decision to close Fox Ridge Elementary school, St. Charles resident Danielle Penman asked the Kane County Electoral Board to bounce Board President Kathleen Hewell and Vice-President Nicholas Manheim from the ballot. Both voted to turn Fox Ridge into an early childhood center.

Penman claims that Hewell and Manheim violated the D303’s Ethics and Gifts Ban by soliciting petition signatures during a school board meeting break. But even if she could prove her contention, a difficult proposition without a willing witness, the Electoral Board, consisting of a designee from the County Clerk’s, Circuit Clerk’s, and State’s Attorney’s offices, lacks the capacity to enforce another entity’s ethics policy.

That’s the sole purview of the D304 Ethics Advisor, who has absolutely no power to throw anyone off the ballot. So this challenge is a complete waste of time. The best the Advisor can do is send a report to the State’s Attorney, who may or may not file charges related to the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, the statute upon which that D304 policy is based.

If the KCSAO does go forward with it, and they prove our duo circulated petitions on District grounds beyond a reasonable doubt, considering school board members don’t get a salary, the worst they’re looking at is a $100 fine or perhaps just a warning. The State Officials and Employees Ethics Act makes no provision to remove someone from an elected position.

Though the Electoral Board won’t render their decision until tomorrow (1/8), I can tell you with certainty that Hewell and Manheim will be just fine!

Ms. Penman also challenged school board candidate Rebecca McCabe’s paperwork on the grounds that her previous employment as a D304 assistant superintendent and consultant would create the kind of conflict of interest by which she would consistently favor the administration.

The first problem with that contention is, it assumes facts not in evidence. To wit, no conflict of interest exists until Ms. McCabe is actually elected. Then, and only then, can the issue be addressed.

But even if the Electoral Board had the power to remove her from the ballot, which they clearly do not, it would be a gross violation of her civil rights to do so based on a purported possibility. It would be not unlike the fate Tom Cruise suffered in ‘Minority Report’ where they arrested people for murders they were about to commit.

Even if such a statue existed, the fact that someone once worked for the district wouldn’t be nearly enough to trigger it. Are her past affiliations a campaign issue? You bet they are. But some will spin it positively while others will go negative. If Mike Madigan and Ed Burke can make tax law while running law firms that fight those taxes, McCabe’s perceived transgressions don’t even make the one-to-ten scale.

This is Illinois, after all! So, McCabe will remain on the ballot as well.

An astute Facebook commenter asserted that, though he agreed with my legal assessment of our three fruitless challenges, Ms. Penman provided voters a service by exposing these candidates for whom they really are.

Not so fast!

Negative campaigning may work in state and federal races, but unless the “offense” is particularly egregious, those kinds of personal attacks almost always backfire at the local level, especially when it comes to trying to throw someone off the ballot. Voters don’t like being denied a choice.

The bottom line is, a candidate can lie through their teeth on the documents required to run for office in Illinois and neither the county clerk nor the electoral board can take issue with it until and unless an in-district registered voter objects. The State’s Attorney may eventually catch up with our mendacious candidate, but that’s another proposition entirely.

Even then, an electoral board requires specific statutory grounds to warrant barring a candidate from the ballot, and Ms. Penman’s objections don’t even come close.

6 thoughts on “Quick Hits – Nominating petition challenges 101

  1. Well since rumor has it you are writing a book on running for office I hope you have a list to petition challenges unless the clerk or state board of elections has one
    My favorites include paper clipping petitions pages out of order bad notary signing petitions for more than one candidate non registered voter
    So many ways. You should just put them all in one chapter

    1. Jim,

      There is a rather lengthy chapter on nominating paperwork where I do go over fatal and not so fatal petition errors. And yes, the two biggest fatal errors are not binding them correctly and not numbering pages correctly.


    1. Dave,

      It’s funny you should ask that question today because my self-publisher and I just determined the best course of action was to part ways. I don’t think they understood the difficulties involved in formatting a book that’s written in an outline format.

      So my business coach and I will be taking over the production and the plan is to have it out by the end of January.

      If, at the beginning, you told me it would take 2 years to write and a year to get it out there, I would’ve laughed my ass off, but here we are!

      I feel like I’ve been pregnant for three years!


    1. Rico,

      To a large degree you’re right, especially when it comes to binding issues. But if you can’t number your pages correctly or get your own address right, I’m thinkin’ you probably shouldn’t be allowed to run for office.


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