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