City Clerk Devon Reid has been active in the Evanston Voter Initiative.

Former Governor Patrick Quinn and three Evanston residents are set to face off this evening, Jan. 9, before the City’s Electoral Board over State Constitutional law and the State’s Election laws.

The local Election Board is composed of City Clerk Devon Reid, Mayor Stephen Hagerty and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey.

At a meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Aug. 10, Mr. Quinn said he and his Congressman, Danny Davis, met Mr. Reid in late 2018. “I told Devon that we were planning to pass a petition to have the power of initiative and referendum, and he said, ‘Why don’t we try that here in Evanston?’ That’s how our whole movement (Evanston Voter Initiative) began. We had a common interest –  his commitment, as you know, is to freedom of information.” 

On Dec. 16 of last year, members of the Evanston Voter Initiative filed a referendum question with the City Clerk’s office to have their question placed on the ballot for the March 17 primary election.

On Dec. 23, Evanston residents former Seventh Ward Alderperson Jane Grover, Kent Swanson and Elizabeth Hayford filed two objections to the referendum question filed by the Evanston Voter Initiative: “It presents a binding referendum question in violation of state law” and “the question presented in the Petition will confuse voters.”

In support of their first argument, Ms. Grover, Mr. Swanson and Ms. Hayford point to the words “if approved, the question shall take effect immediately upon referendum approval of the question.” That is, City of Evanston government would be bound to follow the processes described in the question, should voters approve it.

Binding referendum questions are typically placed on the ballot by a governing body – a City Council or School Board, as examples. Questions placed though citizen initiatives are considered advisory.

While the clause to which the objectors referred is not incorporated into the question itself, it is included in the statement of the petition: “We, the undersigned, qualified electors and registered voters residing within the City of Evanston … who have affixed our signatures in our own proper person to this Petition, do hereby petition … that the following question of public policy be placed on the ballot and submitted to the voters of the City of Evanston … and, if approved, the question shall take effect immediate upon referendum approval of the question.”

The referendum question itself begins with “Shall the people of the City of Evanston provide for a voter petition and referendum process …?

The consequence of voter approval of this referendum question is what might be called a series of cascading referenda: Should Evanston voters approve this referendum question, resident groups that followed the prescribed procedure would be able to place binding referendum questions on upcoming ballots.

Article VII, Section 1(a) of the Illinois Constitution provides that referendum questions must be placed on the ballot “in the manner provided by law.”

The law the objectors say applies is the Illinois Election Code, which they say “does not permit binding referenda on questions of public policy, such as that presented by the Petition.” That section of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/28-6(c) states “Local questions of public policy authorized by this Section and statewide questions of public policy authorized by Section 28-9 shall be advisory public questions, and no legal effects shall result from the adoption or rejection of such propositions.”

The Electoral Board meets at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 9 in City Council chambers in the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

Question for the March 2020 Ballot

“Shall the people of the City of Evanston provide for a voter petition and referendum process for the consideration and passage of city ordinances as follows:

The people of Evanston provide that the offices of City Clerk, Mayor and aldermen of the City Council have the power and duty to determine the necessary and proper procedural rules regarding the passage of city ordinances and the express duty to assist the people of Evanston in exercising their right to petition and make known their opinions regarding the consideration and passage of city ordinances. At the request of at least 25 Evanston electors, the City Clerk shall promptly cause a proposal to be drafted into ordinance form, including an official summary of the proposed ordinance. The official summary of the proposed ordinance may be introduced by a petition filed with the City Clerk and signed by a number of electors equal to at least eight percent of the total votes cast in Evanston for candidates for Governor in the preceding gubernatorial election. The procedure for filing the petition and determining its validity and sufficiency shall be established by the City Clerk, who shall make the determination of validity and sufficiency within 21 days of a petition filing.

Upon the determination of a valid and sufficient petition, the City Clerk shall within one business day submit the ordinance proposed by the official petition summary on the agenda of the next City Council meeting for its consideration. The City Council shall take a record roll call vote on the proposed ordinance within 70 days of submission by the City Clerk. If the City Council does not pass the proposed ordinance within the 70 day period, the official summary of the proposed ordinance shall be submitted by the City Clerk to the electors for their approval by referendum at the next regularly scheduled election held in all precincts of the city and held at least 70 days after referendum submission by the City Clerk. If the official summary is approved by a majority of those voting on the question, the proposed ordinance shall have the force and effect of passage by the corporate authorities of the City of Evanston unless it is disapproved by a resolution of the City Council not more than 30 days after the election?”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...