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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.

 Until about Nov. 23, the Clerk’s webpage on the City of Evanston website said candidates were to file nominating petitions between Dec. 12 and 19, 2016. On Nov. 23, the webpage said a new filing period was Nov. 21-28, 2016.

If candidates fail to file in the proper time period, their nominating petitions are subject to challenge, and they may be kept off the ballot.

The issue appears to have come to a head when one Mayoral candidate and one aldermanic candidate sought to file their petitions on Nov. 22. The Clerk’s Office was initially resistant, but the State Board of Elections told the Clerk to accept petitions filed in the Nov. 21-28 time period.

On Nov. 23, the City Clerk changed his website to say, “[T]he 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.” Whether the Clerk has authority to accept nominating petitions during a period outside the proper statutory period is questionable.

The RoundTable asked the General Counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, about the proper filing dates for candidates seeking mayoral, alderman or clerk positions in Evanston. The General Counsel 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.

The issue as framed by the General Counsel is whether Evanston voters approved a referendum that eliminated “the possibility” of holding a primary. We have asked the City Clerk and the City’s Law Department for information about any such referendum and have been provided nothing from either one.

These issues could have been addressed by the Clerk and the City’s Law Department well before the Nov. 21-28 filing period. We have been told that the attorney for two candidates informed the City Clerk and an attorney in the City’s Law Department that they believed that the Nov. 21-28 filing period was the correct one and left a voice-mail message with the City’s lead attorney. The City’s Law Department is the primary legal counsel to elected City officials, including the City Clerk.   

What happened? What follow-up was there? If there was a referendum “eliminating the possibility” of a referendum, where is it?

Rather than eliminating the possibility of a referendum, it appears that a referendum was passed in 1992 expressly requiring that 1) the Mayor of Evanston be elected in a primary election, and 2) that a primary be held if more than two candidates sought the office.

On Aug. 24, 1992, the City Council decided to place a binding referendum on the November 1992 General Election Ballot. The question approved by Council, by an 11-5 vote, was, “Shall the Mayor of the City of Evanston be elected in the following manner commencing with the election to be held in 1993 and thereafter: If more than two candidates for Mayor shall have filed for election, a primary shall be held and the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes shall stand for election in the Regular Election, Except if one candidate shall receive more than fifty percent (50%) of the votes cast at the primary, that candidate shall have been elected Mayor for a term commencing the first City Council meeting after the Regular Election?”

 A Voters Guide included in the Oct. 29, 1992 issue of the Evanston Review indicates that this question was placed on the ballot for the Nov. 3, 1992 election; and a subsequent newspaper account indicates that it passed.

While a State statute (65 ILCS 5/3.1-20-45) was enacted in 2007 that provides that a primary need not be held “when not more than 4 persons to be nominated for each office have timely filed valid nominating papers seeking nomination for the election to that office,” it is questionable whether it preempts Evanston’s home rule powers as provided in Section 6(f) and (i) of the Illinois Constitution. The City’s Law Department must determine whether the referendum stands and thus governs the upcoming mayoral election.

At the meeting of the Election Board on Dec. 13, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, the chair, said the Election Board members will follow applicable laws. She added, though, “I note that Evanston has a long tradition of recognizing and promoting election access. The City traditionally believes in voter access and believes in candidate access to the ballot. … We will continue to recognize Evanston’s core value that promotes ballot access.”

To ensure and promote ballot access, it is essential that candidates be provided in clear and certain terms the dates for filing nominating petitions.

They should not be forced to scramble over a Thanksgiving weekend to gather signatures on their nominating petitions; they should not be forced to hire attorneys to advise them on the correct filing dates; and they should not be put in a position where they have to defend against challenges to their petitions because of the confusion about the proper filing dates.

We urge City Council to look into why this happened, why no action was taken by the City Clerk and the City’s Law Department after they were told the filing dates on the Clerk’s website were wrong, and what needs to be done to ensure this never happens again.