By Nona Tepper
Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming, a group seeking to place a binding referendum question regarding video gambling on an upcoming ballot, is appealing the recent ruling of a Cook County judge to uphold a local electoral board's decision to disqualify its referendum petition.
After hearing arguments from pro- and anti- video gaming lawyers, Associate Judge James Carroll on Feb. 21 agreed with the electoral board's decision to disqualify more than 275 pages of referendum petitions because of dissimilar headings and group's delay in submitting the petitions.
Six of the petition sheets featured an incorrect referendum date of Nov. 8, 2016, and contained less than 100 of the nearly 3,000 valid signatures on the petitions. Let Forest Park Vote began collecting referendum signatures in November 2016, and submitted their petitions to the village more than a year later.
"The result may seem harsh," Carroll said during the Feb. 21 hearing. However, he added, the varying headers and 13-month filing delay "provided basis for voter confusion for when the referendum would be voted on."
After the hearing, Let Forest Park Vote set up an online campaign seeking about $3,500 to bring the case to the Illinois Court of Appeals. Although the political action committee has so far only raised about $2,900, Let Forest Park Vote submitted the appeal on Feb. 27, said Jordan Kuehn, president of the group.
He said the group asked the court for an "expedited schedule," and estimates the appeal will be heard in the next few weeks.
"We have enough at this point to take us to the next step," Kuehn said. "The appellate court has overturned Judge Carroll once already this year, so I don't know if this speaks to his competence or not, but it shows they're not afraid to do it."
Let Forest Park Vote is still accepting donations. Those interested can donate at www.gofundme.com/letFPvote
If the appellate court overturns Carroll's ruling, the matter will end up back at the feet of the Forest Park Electoral Board, which includes Mayor Anthony Calderone, Commissioner Tom Mannix and Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz.
Electoral board members must decide if the number of inactive voters — those who had never changed their status despite bounced mail from the Cook County Clerk's office — must be counted in the pool of total registered voters in town, which has a population of around 14,000. They also must make a final decision on how many valid signatures the political action committee has collected.
Some have called for Mannix to recuse himself, since he owns a business with the bar owner who filed three advisory petitions to block Let Forest Park's question from appearing on the upcoming March 20 primary ballot.
Others believe Calderone should recuse himself, since he works as liquor commissioner over the bar owners who benefit from the practice of video gaming.
"Mannix is clearly conflicted in his interests," said Kuehn. "As far as the mayor being the liquor commissioner, I think that's just how things are. I can't necessarily say that he should recuse himself based on that alone.
But, "I find it odd that on the electoral board, the way we have it set up, it's the mayor and the clerk, who's appointed by the mayor. The structure of it is interesting to me, no matter who the clerk is, the mayor appointed," Kuehn said.
Let Forest Park Vote seeks to get the question "Shall video gaming be prohibited in the village of Forest Park" on the November ballot. Let Forest Park Vote's question is binding, which means that if a majority of Forest Parkers were to vote against the practice, video gaming — which is now allowed — will be outlawed in the village.
The political action committee originally wanted to get its question on the March 20 primary ballot, but three advisory referendum questions had already been submitted for that ballot in November 2016. Only three questions are allowed on any ballot per state law.
"At the very least, people can't say we didn't try," Kuehn said.
This story has been updated to reflect that Let Forest Park Vote on Video Gaming submitted their petitions 13 months after they originally started collecting signatures.