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The Evanston Voter Initiative will get its day in court on Thursday, as Cook County Circuit Judge Maureen Kirby will hear arguments about whether a citizen-led referendum question should be allowed on the March 17 Primary Election ballot. The full text of the proposed referendum question is in the sidebar to this story.
The Evanston Electoral Board, composed of the Mayor, the City Clerk and the most senior alderman, on Jan. 15 sustained a objections filed by Evanston residents Jane Grover, Elizabeth Hayford and Kent Swanson to bar the question proposed by the Evanston Voter Initiative from the March Ballot. Mayor Stephen Hagerty and Alderman Ann Rainey to sustain the Objectors’ motions to bar the referendum question from the ballot; City Clerk Devon Reid voted to reject each objection.
Daniel Bolin of the Chicago law firm Ancel Glink represented the Electoral Board. Former Governor Patrick Quinn represents the Evanston Voter Initiative (EVI), with Evanston resident Allison Harned as named petitioner.
EVI last month sought judicial review and requested an expedited hearing in light of the fact that ballots must be printed for the March 17 election, and early voting is set to begin on March 3.
EVI has characterized the matter as a “voting rights case.” The Objectors have said it is “a way to change voting in Evanston.”
The Court’s decision may hinge on three items: whether the objections were sufficient, what section of the Illinois Constitution should apply to the case, and whether the language of the referendum would be confusing to voters.
Sufficiency of the Objections
Former Governor Patrick Quinn, attorney for the Evanston Voter Initiative, argues that the objection filed by Objectors Ms. Grover, Ms. Hayford and Mr. Swanson is deficient because it failed to state their “interest” in the matter, as prescribed by 10 ICLS 5/10-8.
The Objectors said at the Jan. 15 hearing that the fact they are registered Evanston voters is sufficient to show their interest, and the Electoral Board sided with them 2-1.
Applicable Constitution Sections
The parties also rely on separate sections of the State Constitution, and Mr. Quinn calls it a “case of first impression involving the original interpretation of provisions of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois election law.”
The Evanston Voter Initiative is proper within Article VII, sections 6 and 11, of the Illinois Constitution, Mr. Quinn states, arguing further that Evanston’s Electoral Board did not have “the authority or jurisdiction to decide constitutional or legal issues.” He argues in the Petition for Judicial Review, “The determination of whether a proposal on an Article VII initiative petition is within the scope of Section 6(f) and Section 11 is a determination properly made by a court, not by a municipal electoral board.”
He further argues, “In the instant case, the alteration proposed by the EVI – changing the powers and duties of Evanston elected officers regarding the consideration and adoption of ordinances initiated by voter petition – fits within the parameters of alterations and modifications of a form of government that a Section 6(f) referendum encompasses.”
Mr. Quinn also argues in the Petition, “In the instant case, the Petitioner fully complied with 28-7 of the Illinois Election Code which prescribes the manner outlined by the General Assembly for filing an Article VII voter initiative petition pursuant to Section 11(a) of the Illinois Constitution.”
At the Jan. 15 Electoral Board hearing, Mr. Quinn said, “You have a fundamental right to petition – it’s in the Bill of Rights. … Voters have the same rights as a unit of government. We have the same authority as City Council.”
The Objectors’ petition, which was sustained by the Evanston Electoral Board, relies on Article VII, Section 1(a) of the Illinois Constitution, which provides that referendum questions must be placed on the ballot “in the manner provided by law.” The law to which that section of the Constitution refers is the Illinois Election Code, and the code at 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.”
In contrast, the EVI referendum question is binding. The words in the preamble to the question are “[I]f 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.
In essence, the referendum question allows for additional binding referenda. Should the question appear on the March 17 ballot and should Evanston voters approve it, resident groups that followed the prescribed procedures would be able to place binding referendum questions on upcoming ballots.
Whether the 383-word referendum, which contains multiple clauses, question would confuse the voters will also be before the judge.
The RoundTable requested a copy of the Electoral Board’s response to the EVI petition but has not received it.
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?”