Considering running for office? A how-to session for neophyte candidates was held at Forest Park Public Library, Nov. 13, co-sponsored by the library and nonpartisan organization Vox 60130.
Presenters were lawyers from the Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC), a 20-year-old organization based in Elmhurst. Presenters were Maryam Judar, CAC’s executive director, and Community Lawyer Andrea Alvarez. Fifteen people attended from communities including Forest Park, Melrose Park, Maywood and Brookfield. Some revealed during the question and answer period that they were running for office or had done so in the past. Two said they were circulating nominating petitions, and two said they had experienced challenges to their petitions in the past.
Familiar faces at the event were D209 board member Theresa Kelly, Forest Park Commissioner Chris Harris, Park Board Commissioner Eric Entler, former Commissioner Marty Tellalian and former candidate for commissioner Elsie Norberg also attended.
Also present, recording the event, were Vox members.
Judar and Alvarez provided a three-page outline, and told the group CAC’s mission is to “uphold democracy and help give people access to government processes” in order to participate. CAC lawyers engage in election-related litigation and appeals, for example.
It can be a game of inches, not feet, and every inch counts. Even the notary you choose can be your downfall: according to Judar.
“Last fall, there was an issue with a notary who had lapsed registration” and all of that person’s notarized petitions were challenged and thrown out. She advised checking your notary’s registration online at the website of the Illinois attorney general.
The CAC lawyers cautioned prospective candidates to be persnickety about small details that could make the difference between having a place on the ballot and getting booted off in advance of the election. They drew on their experience of the many types of challenges that can be made to the three crucial documents a candidate must file: the collective nominating petitions, the statement of candidacy and the statement of economic interest.
Other pitfalls include your own statement of candidacy. The name on the petition must be the candidate’s legal name: no nicknames, no titles, not even Mr., Reverend, or the like.
How many signatures?
To run for village commissioner in Forest Park, a person must have been a resident for one year prior to the election. The potential candidate must collect signatures of registered voters numbering more than 1 percent of the total number of votes cast for mayor in the previous (2011) election. There were 2,909 votes cast, so the minimum number of signatures collected would have to be 30. It’s advisable to collect significantly more to survive petition challenges.
To run for school board, potential candidates must submit petitions signed by a minimum of 50 qualified voters, or 10 percent of the voters residing in the district, whichever is less. For District 91 school board, the total number of registered voters in the district is 8,266. The number of registered voters in the Proviso Township High School District 209 is 85,126.
Other offices up for election include seats on the Park District of Forest Park.
There was an overview of important dates and deadlines for prospective candidates for local office to observe. They included the first date to circulate nominating petitions and the closing date for filing them, the cutoff for filing objections to those petitions, and dates involving placing referenda on ballots.
Ever wonder why you are frequently asked to vote on strangely worded, if not outright nonsensical, referenda on your local ballot? Those were likely placed there in order to keep a more substantive question off; only three are permitted per ballot. First team to file, apparently, wins ballot placement. Hence the importance of meeting deadlines and notarizing the dates and times of petitions.
Items that can spoil petitions include signers who aren’t registered to vote, who provide an incorrect address, or who have already signed a petition declaring them in support of the opposing party. Signatures themselves are challengeable for many, seemingly trivial, reasons. Candidates and referendum-petition circulators were advised to collect signatures in black ink rather than pencil or blue ink, for example, and to try to collect about three times as many signatures as required in their particular election so as to have a cushion for names that get tossed out.
Human nature plays a role in some “bad” signatures. Alvarez told the group that, when a petition is circulated in a group of people, “a lot of people say they’re registered voters who are really not, because they don’t like to admit it in front of other people. So check those signatures.”
Audience members seemed concerned about the makeup of the election boards that review objections, despite a recusal requirement designed to avoid conflicts of interest.
During the five business days after papers are turned in, any registered voter can look at them and object, and prospective candidates need to be prepared both to defend their own petitions and declarations, and to challenge those of the opposition, a process can become expensive.
The very condition of the sheets of signed petitions can be enough to get them tossed. Stray marks can be grounds for objections. Judar advised getting the collected nominating petitions bound: “Don’t use paper clips.”
Chronological pagination and extreme uniformity help too, she said. Said Alvarez, “We had a question recently: there was a grayscale on some but not all. Make (the nominating sheets) uniform prior to collecting signatures.”
When asked how CAC is funded, Judar said it survives on individual donations and foundation grants, to deliberately avoid any government funding. Recently, she said, CAC made “a strategic decision to seek corporate funding” as well.
Said Judar, “It’s only in recent years we have had so many questions around elections, so we have begun these workshops. People can also set up one-on-one consultations with our lawyers” when they come up against some of the above challenges.
The number to reach Citizen Advocacy Center is 630-833-4080. Their web address is www.citizenadvocacycenter.org.
This article has been updated because it incorrectly identified Elsie Norberg as the mother of Commissioner Tom Mannix. Mannix’s mother is Elsie Radtke. The Review regrets the error.