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Evanston aldermanic candidates Eric Young in the Third Ward and Rebeca Mendoza in the Fifth Ward vowed to keep fighting and wage write-in campaigns after a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled the candidate’s names be removed from the April 6 municipal election ballot.
In successive rulings, Judge Alfred J. Paul found that Ms. Mendoza and Mr. Young each failed to meet the strict compliance required under State Election law that a candidate’s nomination papers be securely fastened in book form when the papers were filed – a safeguard against tampering with such documents.
Judge Paul ruled the City’s Electoral Board was “clearly erroneous” when it allowed the candidates’ names to remain on the ballot by finding the filings were in “substantial compliance” with the law.
Ruling on Ms. Mendoza’s case first, the judge took notice of the efforts the candidate had made to get on the ballot and acknowledged her disappointment.
“This is the balancing act that we have,” he said, in the meeting aired over Zoom.
“We favor ballot access, but there has to be a set of guidelines and rules that have to be complied with, so the election process doesn’t involve Hocus Pocus – but that’s a difficult balancing.”
“I know probably right now you’re saying, ‘You know, I did everything right. I have all this support. I want to run. I want to serve the public.’ And because it [the filing] didn’t have some prongs with an echo strip on top of it, or some form of fastening, you’re not on the ballot. And I feel sorry for you, and I think you should appeal the case. And if they reverse me. I’ll be happy for you, and me.”
The objectors identified as filing the petition challenges were Willie Jefferson, long involved in Fifth Ward Democratic politics, and Miles Davis, a resident of the Third Ward.
Neither has made statements beyond the objections they filed in the hearings before the City Electoral Board last month, and neither made a statement at today’s appeal.
Contacted after the judge’s ruling, both Ms. Mendoza and Mr. Young said they did not plan to take their cases to the Appellate Court – a move that could involve considerable costs and no assurance of a favorable ruling.
“It’s disappointing,” said Mr. Young, the owner of La Principal Restaurant at 700 Main St., and one-time president of the Main-Dempster Mile Merchants Association.
He said of Third Ward residents, “I’m still looking forward to representing them and bring change and keep Evanston wonderful.”
Ms. Mendoza manages humanitarian grants for Rotary International and is a member of the District 65 School Board.
With the ruling, she said will now file papers with the City Clerk’s office, declaring her intention to run as a write-in candidate.
In her response to the petition challenge, Ms. Mendoza had told the City’s Electoral Board that she had asked Eduardo Gomez, the City’s Deputy Clerk, whether he had a stapler so she could bind her forms.
She said when he said “no,” she began looking through her pockets to find an object to perforate her papers and testified she was told by Mr. Gomez, to hand them in as is.
Mr. Gomez, who testified after, told the Electoral Board that what he meant by his comments was “that anyone is welcome to turn in petitions as they see fit.”
Addressing Judge Paul after his decision, Ms. Mendoza said, “It’s disappointing when you’re actively doing something and you’re stopped in the middle of doing it.”
She also noted the historic conditions that candidates were dealing with under the pandemic.
The City’s Electoral Board had “reviewed everything and ruled in my favor, she told the judge, “and it’s unfortunate that this court is overturning their role which is, I believe, the role of the people of Evanston and so you are disenfranchising voters.”
Judge Paul broke in at that point. “Let me say I am not disenfranchising you. The only thing I have said is the Election Code has this requirement,” he told Ms. Mendoza. “And I say that, that’s what the legislature did in order to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. And that was a law that they passed. All I as the judge was saying is that’s a technical rule that was not complied with. That’s all I’m saying.”
On Dec. 10, the City’s Electoral Board – composed of the Mayor (Stephen Hagerty), the City Clerk (Devon Reid) and the senior alderman (Ann Rainey) – found the candidates’ filings to be in “substantial compliance” with the Election Code, though Mr. Reid had raised concerns about use of that term.
“I really think the standard for binding isn’t ‘substantial,’” he said at meeting the following day when the Board members worked over the language of their order. “I think it’s ‘mandatory’.”
Arguing the case today, David Dale, Mr. Young’s attorney, noted that the Electoral Board had found no allegations or concerns of fraudulent activity.
Mr. Young had numbered his nominating papers, which had been placed inside a manila folder, he noted.
But Ed Mullen, a veteran election attorney, argued that the candidate did not meet election requirements in two key areas.
“And I think the two important points here are that the nomination papers were not fastened to each other; they were not fastened to the folders, so they were completely unfastened. The other issue is that they were able to be easily pulled apart,” he told the judge.
Mr. Mullen noted that any reliance that the candidate might have had on the advice from the Deputy Clerk was not part of the Electoral Board’s decision.
In his ruling, Judge Paul said the issue before him was whether the City’s Electoral Board was “clearly erroneous.”
“As I said in Miss Mendoza’s case, all the evidence presented in this case, confirms that the petitions were filed without any form of fastening whatsoever,” he said.
He cited the Election Code’s stipulation that no signatures should be considered valid if the filing did not comply with that provision of the code.
“It’s clear for me all the evidence that was presented to the Electoral Board that there was no fastening. That is required on a strict compliance basis,” he said, ruling that Mr. Young’s name should not appear on the ballot.