The posting of different time periods in which to file nominating petitions for mayor, alderman, and City Clerk in the upcoming elections caused confusion and left many candidates for those offices scrambling to meet a Nov. 28 deadline.
Up until about Nov. 23, the Clerk’s webpage said candidates were to file nominating petitions during the period Dec. 12-19, 2016. On Nov. 23, the webpage said a new period was Nov. 21-28, 2016.
If candidates fail to file in the proper time period, their nominating petitions may be subject to challenge, and they may be kept off the ballot.
Despite the short notice and the intervening Thanksgiving Holiday, by the close of business on Nov. 28, four people had filed petitions to run for Mayor, two filed for City Clerk, and 17 for alderman. The candidates are listed in the right hand column.
The New Filing Period
The issue appears to have come to a head when Brian Miller, 9th Ward alderman, attempted to file his nominating petitions to run for Mayor on Nov. 22. Ald. Miller told the RoundTable that the Clerk’s Office was initially resistant to accept his filing, but that he was allowed to file. At some point, the State Board of Elections told the Clerk to accept petitions filed in the Nov. 21-28 time period.
Ald. Miller told the RoundTable he researched the issue and concluded the proper filing period was Nov. 21-28. He said his lawyer reached the same conclusion.
Because the Clerk’s website said the filing period was Dec. 12-19, Ald. Miller said he asked his attorneys to bring this up with the City’s Corporation Counsel to clear up any confusion about the dates. He said his attorneys, prior to Nov. 15, informed Clerk Greene and an attorney in the City’s law department that they believed that the Nov. 21-18 filing period was the correct one and left a voicemail message with Grant Farrar, the head of the City’s law department.
On Nov. 23, the Clerk’s website was changed to say, “Candidates can begin circulating petitions after September 20, 2016, and the filing period begins November 21 - 28, 2016. All petitions will be accepted up to and including December 19th as the last day to receive your petitions.”
On Nov. 23, City Clerk Rodney Greene prepared a memo addressed to the Mayor, City Council Aldermen, and Candidates for the April 4, 2017 Consolidated Election. The memo says, “To my knowledge Evanston has not held a Consolidated Primary election in February for any Municipal election. However, the State Board of Elections instructed this office to accept petitions from the candidates who file petitions between November 21-28, 2016. The State Board says, this is the filing period for candidates for a February 2017 primary election. The State Board advises a February 2017 primary is only needed if more than 4 candidates for an office file petitions.”
The memo continued, “To avoid any issues, the Clerk’s office will accept petitions by any candidate made with our office during November 21-28, or December 12-19.”
It is unclear if all candidates received the memo, but word about the new dates spread. On Nov. 23 Devon Reid, who is running for Clerk, posted information on his Facebook page saying that the correct filing dates are Nov. 21-28, and he and others, including Cicely Fleming, a candidate for Ninth ward alderman, provided the new dates to many potential candidates.
The RoundTable posted an article in the morning of Nov.24 that new dates for filing candidate petitions were posted. Some candidates told the RoundTable in the next few days that they were unsure whether the correct filing period was Nov. 21-28, or Dec. 12-19, and assuming the correct filing period was Nov. 21-18, whether they could risk filing at later date. Some were concerned whether the Clerk had authority to accept petitions filed in the period Dec. 12 -19.
Alex Morgan, a candidate for alderman in the Third Ward, Robin Simmons, candidate for alderman in the Fifth Ward, and Ann Rainey, seeking to be reelected as alderman of the Eighth Ward, were in line to file nominating petitions by 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 28.
Mr. Morgan told the RoundTable he was in Seattle for Thanksgiving when he learned the filing period was Nov. 21-28. He cut his trip short to return to Evanston to gather signatures for his nominating petitions and to be prepared to file them on Nov. 28. He said he hoped everyone was able to get on the ballot, even though filing dates changed.
Ms. Simmons said she learned on Thanksgiving eve of the change in dates, and it disrupted the peace one has at a family gathering. She said she had petitions prepared for the December dates, but had to seek new signatures in light of the change in filing dates. “It’s unfortunate it happened,” she told the RoundTable, adding she hoped it would not keep anyone off the ballot.
Ald. Rainey said, “We all have an obligation to take care of business.”
Mr. Reid was seeking signatures on his nominating petitions in the early evening of Nov. 27, when he was handcuffed, taken to the police station, and charged with refusing to give his birth date to a police officer. See story on page 3.
The Illinois State Board of Elections View
On Nov. 28, the RoundTable asked Scott Munzel, General Counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, about the proper filing dates for candidates seeking mayoral, alderman or clerk positions in Evanston. Mr. Munzel told the RoundTable, that the “typical” filing period for a council/manager form of government, like Evanston’s, is Nov. 21-28, 2016. He said that was the filing period unless Evanston voters approved a referendum in which changes were made in the election process, such as eliminating “the possibility” of holding a primary election.
Mr. Munzel said he had talked to staff at the City of Evanston on Nov. 22 and 23 about the filing period, and no one provided him with documentation of any referendum in which changes were made to the election process.
The RoundTable asked Mr. Greene and Mr. Farrar if there was such a referendum. They did not respond.
The RoundTable also asked Mr. Munzel if the Clerk could add a second time period during which candidates could file nominating petitions. Mr. Munzel said there is no explicit statutory authority for the Clerk to do so.
He said, though, that there is “a reasonable chance” a candidate who relied on erroneous filing dates posted by the Clerk could obtain equitable relief through a lawsuit and be allowed by the Court to file nominating petitions during a different time period.
Mr. Munzel added that if no one objected to petitions that were filed in a wrong period, they might “sail through.”
No More Advice, But Accepting Petitions in a December Period
At the City Council meeting in the evening of Nov. 28, after the Nov. 21-28 filing period had closed, Clerk Greene said, “I understand there’s a significant confusion regarding candidate filing deadlines.” He said that Mr. Farrar suggested that he retain special counsel to advise him in dealing with these issues.
“At this time, I will not be providing any advice to candidates relating to petition filings or deadlines,” said Clerk Greene. “I suggest that all candidates obtain their own legal advice related to these issues. Based on the advice I have received from my attorney and the complicated legal issues that are involved, I will be accepting all documents filed with me for both the November and December filing periods. So if you haven’t filed now you still have time to file in December, the 19th will be the last day of filing.”
The RoundTable asked Mr. Greene and Mr. Farrar if the Clerk had any statutory authority to accept nominating petitions in the Dec. 12-19 time period. They provided no response.
It appears that most, maybe all, people who are interested in running in the upcoming election filed their petitions in the Nov. 21-28 time period. If no additional candidates seek to run for office, the timing issue may become moot. Or it may become moot if no one objects to a later filing. How this will play out remains to be seen.
Significantly, Clerk Greene filed his nominating petitions to seek reelection to the office of City Clerk on Nov. 28.