Third Ward candidate Eric Young’s name will not be stricken from the April 6 ballot, with a City Electoral Board ruling today, Dec. 10, against objectors’ challenge that his petitions were not fastened properly.

Members of the Board – Mayor Stephen Hagerty, Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, and City Clerk Devon Reid – voted 3-0 against the petition challenge, with Mr. Reid raising the strongest reservations.

Board members made a number of rulings on a day that will have a bearing on next April’s municipal election.

In the Clerk’s race, candidate Jane Grover, former Seventh Ward alderman, said she was withdrawing her defense to a petition challenge. Later she told the RoundTable via email, “I am not a candidate for City Clerk.”

Ms. Grover had stated her commitment to serving the community in support “of good government, openness, and transparency.”

She said after consulting with an election counselor “who has reviewed the pleadings in the matter and applicable law, it is with sincere regret that I withdraw my motion to dismiss whatever the Electoral Board’s decision would have been. I do not think I would prevail in an appeal.”

Ms. Grover’s decision now leaves Stephanie Mendoza as the lone candidate for the Clerk’s office.

In the Fifth Ward, candidate Rebeca Mendoza will remain on the ballot, with the Board voting down an objector’s challenge that her petitions were not fastened properly.

Ms. Mendoza had argued that she had relied on the Clerk’s office in filing the petitions in the form she did.

“This has been a different type of election,” she told Board members, “where I had to go during a pandemic to collect petitions, which is not very easy to get people to do this.”

In the Eighth Ward, Board members voted in favor of dropping candidate Shelley Castillo from the ballot for not listing on her petition sheets the office for which she intended to run.

Ms. Castillo challenged the decision, saying the 25 affidavits she obtained after receiving notice of the petition challenge attested to her Eighth Ward residency and “came from the same voters that originally signed my nomination petitions.

“It is clear to the voters of the Eighth Ward that signed my petition that I’m running to be their alderman as a duly legal and qualified voter in the Eighth Ward and only qualified to run in the Eighth Ward,” said Ms. Castillo, calling the challenge “confusing and insulting.”

She could still appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court or run as a write-in candidate.

The Board has one more case to decide, convening Dec. 11 to hear a petition challenge to Eleanor Revelle, who is seeking another term as Seventh Ward alderman.

Mr. Young, in his defense, testified that said he had brought his petitions unbound and had asked Deputy City Clerk Eduardo Gomez, administering the process, whether his petitions were sufficient in the way he was turning them in, without having them stapled or fastened in another manner.

He said that Mr. Gomez said “This is okay,” about the sheets as they were “at which point we left the room.”

His attorney, David Dale, asked Mr. Young if he understood that the law required the papers to be bound when he walked into the office.

Mr. Young said he was unsure.

Responding to questioning earlier, Mr. Gomez acknowledged that he was asked by Mr. Young whether the papers were filed in their proper format.

“What was your response to that question?” Mr. Dale asked.

Mr. Gomez, who testified he was instructed by Clerk Reid not to provide advice or materials, said his response was “however he chose to,” to Mr. Young. Mr. Reid disputed Mr. Gomez’s statement.

Attorneys for the objectors had argued in their briefs and before the Board that bound petition forms is a requirement of State law.

Ed Mullen, a veteran election attorney who has represented other Evanston officials, noted, “The first question is whether the candidate here complied with the provision that his petition to be submitted in a way that were securely fastened in book form, and we submitted that he is not.

“The word ‘fastened’ is used a lot in the English language. You think about fastening your seatbelt, you think about fastening the back of your dress,” he told the Board. “Imagine those things, and then we looked at Mr. Young’s petitions, and I don’t think you can reasonably believe that that is a fastened seatbelt that would make you feel good.

”Mr. Young was aware that his petitions needed to be done before he came to the office,” he asserted. “I don’t think he could rely on the office having the materials he needed to bind his own petitions and there’s really no excuse for him not to have done that before he came to the Board.”

In the Board’s discussion, Mayor Hagerty focused on whether the objectors felt the loose papers were a willful act by Mr. Young.

David Foster, attorney for another set of objectors, had noted that the concern behind the election law was that unbound papers could lead to manipulation of the record.

In the Board’s discussion, Mr. Reid noted that it did not seem “there was an attempt to put them [the petition papers] into some kind of book form where they were secure … and the law is clear: The candidate meets these certain provisions; [if] they aren’t complied with, then no signature on that petition shall be accounted for.”

Ald. Rainey raised concerns about the overall process, suggesting the Clerk’s office has to bear some of the responsibility.

 “You know, what is so wrong about putting a stapler on the counter or on a desk when people are coming to file their petitions?” she asked. “Every time I’ve come to file, there’s always been a stapler on the counter.”

“It’s almost a malevolent act for the City Clerk not to put a stapler out when people come in with their petitions,” she charged, “because there’s always somebody who didn’t have their petitions stapled.”

Mayor Hagerty said he shared her concern about whether integrity of the process was an issue.

He asked both Mr. Mullen and Mr. Foster directly whether they were alleging any fraudulent activity by Mr. Young or the Clerk’s office in terms of “adding, subtracting any documents from the files.”

Each said, “Absolutely not.”

Mr. Reid joined Ald. Rainey and Mayor Hagerty in the 3-0 vote, though first declaring Ald. Rainey’s charges about the Clerk’s office as political.

“Do you think it’s appropriate that the local election authority take a hands-off approach in simply accepting petitions?” he asked. “There’s nothing in the statute that requires that. I could also tell you there’s no statuary requirement that a stapler should have been provided by the Clerk’s office — and pens and papers, hole-punchers and all kinds of materials for folks to use as they are filing a petition.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.