Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

Mendoza and Young are on board as write-Ins

Local, County and State regulations affect Evanston elections in at least three ways: whether a name will appear on the printed ballot, whether a vote cast for a write-in candidate will be counted, and how the results of the Primary Election affect the ensuing General Election.

More than two dozen people have declared themselves candidates for City and School Board positions. All the candidates for School Board and the majority of candidates for City offices filed nominating petitions with the proper authority. Ten candidates, however, either did not file papers or did not file them successfully and said they would be write-in candidates.

Primary Run-Offs

All three candidates for mayor – Daniel Biss, Lori Keenan, and Sebastian Nalls – filed nominating papers. Under a referendum approved by the voters of Evanston in 1993, a primary election is triggered when three or more candidates file for the office of mayor. The candidate receiving 50% of the votes plus one vote in the Primary Election will be the next mayor, and there will be no need for a General Election race for mayor. Should no one receive a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters will face off in the General Election.

The City Clerk and aldermanic race appear to be going by “past practice” rather than local ordinance or State statute. Confusion arose in the 2017 local elections about whether Evanston holds partisan or nonpartisan elections.

State election law prescribes how partisan and nonpartisan elections should be held, and Evanston appeared to have its own way of doing things. In October of 2017, then-Assistant City Attorney Hugh DuBose advised the City Council, meeting as the Rules Committee, that they should consider putting a referendum on the ballot asking whether elections should be nonpartisan. Alderman Don Wilson told the RoundTable the referendum question appeared on the March 17, 2020 ballot.

On Jan. 22, the RoundTable asked Corporation Counsel Kelly Gandurski and City Clerk Devon Reid whether the primary election results for aldermen and City Clerk would be treated the same as in the mayoral race – that a candidate receiving 50% of the votes plus one vote would win the entire race, foreclosing the need for a general election for mayor – or whether the top two vote-getters would face a runoff in the General Election.

The response from the City indicated that the City is following the Illinois Municipal Code for nonpartisan elections: that the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes will face off in the General Election. If one of the top two vote-getters is a write-in candidate, then that name will appear on the General Election Ballot if “he or she receives a number of votes in the primary election that equals or exceeds the number of signatures required on a petition for nomination for that office or that exceeds the number of votes received by at least one of the candidates whose names were printed on the primary ballot for nomination for or election to the same office.”

 Write-In Candidates for City Offices

In the City Clerk’s race, only Stephanie Mendoza filed nominating petitions. Misty Witenberg, Jackson Paller, Adedapo Odusanya, Darrell Patterson, Eduardo Gomez, and Cynthia Beebe have indicated they are write-in candidates.

In the Fourth Ward aldermanic race, Diane Goldring, Jonathan Nieuwsma, and Donald Wilson (incumbent) filed nominating petitions. Patricia Connolly and Sari Kadison-Shapiro are write-in candidates.

In the Eighth Ward aldermanic race, Matthew Mitchell, Ann Rainey (incumbent), and Devon Reid filed nominating petitions.  Joshua Hall and Shelley Ann Carrillo are write-in candidates.​

Becoming a write-in candidate involves more than just asking people to fill in a name on a ballot. The prospective write-in candidate must file a declaration of intent in a timely fashion and with the proper authority.

The deadline for submitting a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate to the Cook County Clerk’s downtown Chicago office, 69 W. Washington St., Fifth Floor,  expired on Dec. 24.

On Dec. 10 – postponed from Dec. 7 – the City’s Electoral Board heard challenges to the petitions of Third Ward Aldermanic candidate Eric Young, Fifth Ward Aldermanic candidate Rebeca Mendoza, and Eighth Ward Aldermanic candidate Shelley Castillo. The Board did not sustain the objections to either Ms. Mendoza’s or Mr. Young’s petitions and allowed their names to be on the ballot. The Board did, however, vote to remove Ms. Carillo’s name from the ballot. 

On Jan. 13, 2021, more than three weeks after the deadline to file a declaration of intent to run as a write-in candidate, Circuit Judge Alfred Paul ruled in favor of the challengers to Ms. Mendoza’s and Mr. Young’s candidacies, removing their names from the ballot.

Mr. Young told the RoundTable he is “definitely proceeding as a write-in candidate.” He said the paperwork will be filed in the next few days, ahead of the Feb. 4 deadline he has been given.

Ms. Mendoza said she has also filed her intent to pursue a write-in campaign.

How Write-In Votes Are Counted

Voters in the Primary Election may cast their ballots for a candidate whose name is printed on the ballot or write in the name of a candidate.

While a voter is free to write in any name, only votes cast for a candidate who has properly filed a declaration of intent will be counted.

On Election Day, the Clerk’s office will provide a list of eligible write-in candidates to each precinct, enabling the election judges to determine which write-in candidates are running in their precinct. Only votes for eligible write-in candidates are counted.

According to information from the County Clerk’s office, voters can vote for a write-in candidate on a paper ballot or a touch screen.

  • On a paper ballot, voters should write the name of the write-in candidate on the line provided in a particular race and mark the corresponding oval.
  • On a touch screen, voters should press the “write-in” box at the bottom of the list of candidates. After a keyboard appears, the voter should type a name using the letters on the keyboard and space key to separate the first and last name and press “OK” when finished.

Complete accuracy of a write-in candidate’s name is not necessary as long as the election judges can determine a voter’s intent to select a specific write-in candidate, according to the Clerk’s office. There should be some relationship between the appearance or sound of the name written or printed on the ballot and that of the write-in candidate’s actual name.

If there is a dispute, a majority of the election judges must agree as to the intent of the voter. If a majority agreement among the election judges cannot be reached, the write-in vote will not be counted.

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...