February 7, 2018



Let's do some simple mathematics. Illinois had a 2010 census population of 12,830,632 and there are currently 5,241,843 registered statewide voters. Cook County, including Chicago, had a 2010 census population of 5,194,675, and there are currently 2,933,502 registered countywide voters.

It takes a minimum/maximum of 5,000/10,000 nominating petition signatures to get on the ballot for governor or any other statewide office, which is a wholly arbitrary number set by state law.

It took - at least for the 2018 election- 8,260 nominating petition signatures to get on the March 20 Democratic primary ballot for Cook County board president, assessor, sheriff, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) or any other countywide office. That is the number mandated by the county clerk, which is equal to 0.0075 percent of the total vote cast in the 2016 Democratic primary, which was 1,095,534, and equates to roughly 0.0028 percent of the eligible voter pool.

To some, especially Edward "Eddie" Acevedo and Todd Stroger, who along with four others just got knocked off the primary ballot as candidates for sheriff and MWRD because of a serious deficiency of valid petition signatures, that smacks of "disparate treatment," which means a civil rights violation and an injustice under federal law and the U.S. Constitution which affects ballot access and voting rights. To others, it sounds like business-as-usual in Cook County, where the Democratic organization gets their people on the ballot, gets other people off the ballot, and runs the show. And to others, it sounds like the drivel of incompetents who didn't do their homework, didn't get the requisite signatures within a 90-day period, and now claim victim hood. As they say, politics in Cook County ain't beanbag. With Acevedo off, Dart will be unopposed and will be sheriff for 4 more years.

The procedure in election law cases is that the objector files a challenge to the candidate's nominating petitions, either on (1) factual or (2) legal grounds. A factual objection means that the candidate didn't submit enough signatures, and an Appendix-Recapitulation prepared by the objector lists every page and every line of the petitions to which there is an objection. Common grounds include (1) not registered, (2) not signed in their "own proper person," which is a polite euphemism for forgery, (3) does not reside in the district of the candidate (which, in Acevedo's case, is Cook County), or (4) "other," which usually means the signature is printed or totally illegible. The "machine," for decades, used to file what was called "shotgun" challenges wherein every signature on every sheet was objected under "other." That required the challenger to spend weeks (and thousands of dollars for attorney fees) at the requisite board undergoing what was once called a "binder check," comparing the petition signatures to each challenged voter's registration card.

A legal objection means that there is something seriously defective with the petitions or candidacy statement themselves, such as a candidate not filing necessary financial disclosures, not being eligible, misstating the office, or not having proper notarization or documentation. I clearly remember a legendary case back in 1991 when 38th Ward aldermanic candidate Marty Serwinski, then challenging incumbent Tom Cullerton, submitted petitions along with a statement of candidacy which was notarized but not signed by him. Oops. Make that Double Oops. That gifted Cullerton an easy re-election.

A challenge must be filed 7 days after closure of the petition filing period, with the local election authority, meaning the County Clerk in Cook County, the Board of Elections for contests wholly within Chicago, or the Illinois Board of Elections for statewide contests. The board then assigns the case to a hearing officer, an independent contractor attorney, who gathers evidence, schedules hearings, and within 14 to 21 days makes a finding either sustaining or overruling the objector's petition. What is now called a "records examination" can be especially onerous and time-consuming, as Acevedo discovered. After a board employee compares the subject signatures and either sustains or overrules the objection, either party can then bring in affidavits from the signers or, as is usually necessary, the signers themselves to "rehabilitate" and authenticate their own signature, a process that can consume days, if not weeks. Acevedo brought in roughly 11,000 signatures, of which over 5,000 were voided. That meant that Acevedo had to find the signers, persuade them to waste a day of their life in the county building to testify, and transport them. "We just could not do in the time allowed," said Roberto Maldonado, an Acevedo campaign staffer, and not the same Maldonado who is the alderman of the 26th Ward.

A hearing officer ruling can then be appealed to the full board. And, within 5 days after a final ruling, can be taken into a local circuit court by the aggrieved (losing) party in the form of a "judicial review," which is handled on an expedited basis. Neither new evidence nor testimony can be submitted, so a signature deficiency finding is never overturned. Only legal issues are considered. Of course, the fact that the judges in the County Division have all been slated by the Democratic Party or appointed by other judges trends to preordain the outcome.

A Circuit Court ruling can then be appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, where the three Democratic justices elected from Cook County her it. By the time this whole process is exhausted the primary is imminent, and Acevedo, Stroger their off-the-ballot allies - Robert Shaw, Rene Avila, Toni Williams and Elizabeth Joyce - have chosen to file a "disparate treatment" civil rights action in federal court, arguing that the Cook County petition signature requirement is arbitrary and unconstitutionally high. Why, they contend, should somebody running for governor need just 5,000 signatures, which can be procured in some or all of Illinois' 102 counties, while somebody running for sheriff in Cook County needs 8,260? "The deck is stacked" in Cook County, said Maldonado of the Acevedo campaign, "against minorities, poor people and anybody who is not one of the chosen few, and those chosen few stay in power by denying ballot access."

The case has been assigned to Judge Elaine Bucklo, who has already denied the plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to enjoin the holding of the March 20 primary and block the printing of early-voting and absentee ballot, which will not contain their names. Essentially, the Acevedo case is over. A TRO is granted only in the most extraordinary of circumstances and only in the face of the most egregious conduct. The four criteria for a TRO are that the plaintiff has (1) suffered irreparable injury (from being denied ballot access), (2) that there is no other adequate remedy at law, (3) that there is a likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail when the case goes to trial, and (4) that the relief requested does not disserve the public interest.

The TRO was doomed from the start because the plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law, and could have filed for judicial review. But mostly because statutes and case law couple ballot access with a showing a "modicum of support," which is demonstrated by procuring valid signatures from duly registered voters on nominating petitions. Signature requirements for Illinois offices are set by state law, and are not tied to any percentage, and are uniform for established political parties: 5,000-10,000 for governor, etc., and minimums of 1,000 for state senator and 500 for state representative.

Cook County, under home rule authority, has different minimums for different parties in different years, based on that respective party's primary turnout in the in the last election cycle, which would be 2016 for 2018 ballot access. In 2016, a total of 1,095,534 people voted in the Democratic primary, 652,316 in Chicago and 443,178 in the suburbs. The 8,260 needed by Acevedo and other countywide candidates amounts to three-quarters of 1 percent of the 2016 turnout. That is not an unreasonable number, and certainly does not reach the "disparate treatment" threshold.

Cook County has 50 Chicago Democratic ward organizations and 30 suburban township organization almost all of which can get 500 signatures in a couple of days, if not mere hours. A challenging candidate has 90 days to get signatures, and assumes the risk that they will be scrutinized. It is axiomatic that the best opponent is no opponent, and blocking ballot access is part of the game.

As of Dec. 31, Dart had $425,511 on-hand and raised $15,410 in the fourth quarter of 2017, while Acevedo's numbers were, respectively, $334 on-hand and raised $15,300. Dart has been enmeshed in an ongoing controversy with Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and former state's attorney Anita Alvarez regarding the setting of defendants' cash bonds for non-violent crimes, which raises the County Jail's inmate count. At present, there are 6,098 incarcerated inmates, a number that has declined by close to 25 percent in recent years.

Acevedo is a former state representative with a base in the southwest side Mexican-American 22nd Ward, and was not deemed to be particularly formidable. Odds were that Dart, backed solidly by white committeemen, and having given black committeemen no reason not to support him, would cruise to a 65-35 percent victory. In 2014, he got 65 percent in the primary. Now Dart can cruise all the way through 2022.

Send an e-mail to russ@russste wart.com or visit his Web site at www.russste wart.com.