Ballot dispute heads to court

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By Josh Adams

After being told he would be bounced from the ballot for filing incomplete paperwork in his bid for mayor, Negale Jackson has appealed to the Cook County Circuit Court to have his name certified in time for next month's primary.

In his Jan. 9 complaint, Jackson names Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz as the defendant responsible for improperly keeping him off the ballot. Cook County Clerk David Orr is also named as a defendant in his capacity to oversee the village's election and to print ballots.

Under state election law, the Cook County clerk will not print a candidate's name on the ballot unless that candidate is certified by the municipal clerk.

"Vanessa's refusal to certify Negale's name for the ballot for the Feb. 27, 2007, municipal consolidated primary election in the village of Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois for the office of mayor is: willful; illegal; a violation of Negale's constitutional rights; and, beyond her authority under the Illinois election code," attorney Leonard Murray said in his complaint filed on Jackson's behalf.

On Dec. 19, Moritz notified Jackson in writing that his nominating papers did not include a receipt from Orr's office certifying that he had filed a statement of economic interest, as required by state law. Absent this paperwork, Moritz said, she could not certify Jackson as a candidate for mayor.

Jackson maintains that he did file the receipt with the village clerk, and provided a copy of such to Moritz after receiving the letter. Moritz, however, has said the copy Jackson provided was unconvincing.

"It's not consistent with every other receipt that I received," Moritz said in a previous interview with the Review.

A spokesperson for Orr's office confirmed that Jackson did file a statement of economic interest with that office. However, election law is clear in mandating that a receipt of that filing be submitted to the municipality.

Attorneys in the case met on the morning of Jan. 11 to set an expedited schedule for hearing the matter. According to Tom Bastian, an attorney from the village's law firm representing Moritz, oral arguments will be made on Friday, Jan. 19. Jackson had until noon on Jan. 16 to file a brief outlining his argument. The defendants will be given until noon on Jan. 18 to respond to that brief, Bastian said.

To allow for further appeals in time for the primary, Bastian predicted the circuit court judge will issue a ruling from the bench.

Gail Siegel, spokesperson for Orr's office, said ballots will likely need to be finalized prior to the first week of February when early voting and absentee voting takes place. Design deadlines for the touch screen programs will dictate when the ballots must be finalized, Siegel said.

"There has to be preparations for the touch screen before they go out in the field," Siegel said.

If Jackson is unsuccessful in his fight to appear on the ballot, he will not be standing on the sidelines by himself. Richard Scafidi, who filed to run for village commissioner, failed to submit the same receipt with his nominating papers, Moritz said. Scafidi is not challenging the village clerk's decision.

Meanwhile, three other mayoral candidates recently survived a challenge to their nominating petitions. Deborah Cole, who lives at the same address as Jackson at 324 Marengo Ave., had her objections thrown out earlier this month by the municipal electoral board. Cole challenged the validity of the signatures collected by incumbent Anthony Calderone and challengers Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach.

Jackson attended the Jan. 5 meeting of the electoral board at which Cole's objections were dismissed, and said afterwards that an appeal of that decision is likely.

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