By Nona Tepper
A political action committee's quest to put a binding referendum question regarding video gambling on an upcoming ballot proved successful March 16, when the Illinois Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court ruling that upheld a local electoral board's decision to nullify referendum petitions.
Appellate Court Judges Joy Cunningham, Mathias Delort and Thomas Hoffman ruled that the 270 petition pages submitted by Let Forest Park Vote for Video Gaming contained enough valid signatures and substantially complied with state election code, rejecting the decisions of a county judge and the Forest Park Electoral Board.
Because the local electoral board "erroneously ordered that the public question addressed to video gaming in the village shall not appear on the ballot of the next regular election," judges also ordered that the matter will not return to local electoral board.
"It is tremendously uplifting to see the court rule in favor of the 3,522 people in Forest Park who want their voices to be heard, rather than letting the gaming lobby quash our right to vote on this important issue," Jordan Kuehn, president of the political action committee said in a statement. "Let Forest Park Vote thanks all of our dozens of volunteers and donors who enabled us to successfully navigate this legal process and secure the right to vote on video gaming in our village."
Objectors could still appeal the latest decision to the Illinois Supreme Court or ask for a rehearing.
"I have no idea" if they'll do that, said attorney Ed Mullen, who represented anti- video gaming forces.
Attorney James Nally, who represents video gambling proponents, did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Let Forest Park Vote submitted 276 petition sheets to the village in December 2017, containing signatures of more than 3,500 Forest Park residents who wished to vote on whether to allow video gambling in town.
A January records review of the petitions by the Cook County Clerk found that the group collected 2,840 valid signatures. But, six of the petition sheets contained dissimilar headings, which featured an incorrect referendum date of Nov. 8, 2016.
The local electoral board and a circuit court judge found that the dissimilar headers failed to comply with the Illinois election code, which states "the heading of each sheet shall be the same."
Both groups rejected all of the petition pages, not just the ones with the incorrect headings, killing Let Forest Park Vote's bid to get a binding referendum on the November ballot.
But, "substantial compliance can satisfy even mandatory provisions of the election code," Appellate Court Judge Hoffman wrote in an opinion delivered March 16. "When a deviation from the election code is minor or technical in nature, and does not affect the legislative intent to guarantee a fair and honest election, the deviation will not render the entire petition invalid."
With that, Let Forest Park Vote's 270 petition sheets were deemed valid. These sheets contain 2,750 valid signatures, a number greater than the 25 percent threshold of legal voters in the village necessary get on the ballot. Judges certified that the 25 percent threshold of legal voters in Forest Park is 2,360.
"I'm so happy that the people of Forest Park will finally be able to vote on this important issue," Kris McCoy, Let Forest Park Vote co-chair said in a statement. "Our committee has worked hard and persevered to make sure that the citizens are heard."