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Election Issues

Eligibility to hold office
Alvarez v. Williams, 2014 IL App. (1st) 133443 (2014).
An individual challenged a ruling that his prior conviction for forgery made him ineligible to hold the office of a school board member because it is an “infamous crime.” Illinois prohibits school board members who have been convicted of infamous crimes from holding office.

Interestingly, while this case was being decided, the school board member’s forgery conviction was expunged. However, because that fact did not exist while the case was being appealed, the court held that it was not relevant to its review. This fact leaves the question open as to whether this individual will now be eligible to hold the office of school board member.

Election of Local School Council Member
Lindsey and Ross v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, No. 1-03-1596 (Ill.App.5, 12-1-04).
Two candidates challenged the election results for local school council (LSC) members of a Chicago public school. These elections are governed by rules developed by the Chicago Board of Education rather than the Election Code. The challengers complained of the improper use of school resources as well as improper distribution of campaign literature on election day. The hearing officer for the Chicago Board of Education conducted a hearing in accordance with the Board’s rules. In reviewing his decision, the Illinois Court of Appeals found no error in his conclusion that the facts demonstrated no “substantial and uncured election violations.”

Election of Local School Council Member
Peet v. Voots, --- N.E.2d ----, 2008 WL 4658354 (Ill.App. 3 Dist. 2008).
An unsuccessful school board candidate filed an election contest and prevailed in the circuit court of Will County. Upon the school board member’s motion, the circuit court awarded costs against the county clerk. The clerk appealed. The Appellate Court reversed. It held that no statutory authority exists to award costs to a candidate challenging an election. The section of the Election Code providing that an election contest be tried in a like manner as "other civil cases" incorporates only the provisions contained in the Civil Practice Law, and not the other provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure governing an award of costs.

Whether a candidate for office may obtain the identity of an individual providing anonymous online comments
Stone v. Paddock Publications, Inc., 2011 IL App (1st) 093386, (11/17/2011).
The facts of this case began in an online chat on a suburban newspaper's comment board. The chat was between two individuals (one later identified as a minor) who posted various sarcastic comments about a local election under anonymous screen names. The minor's mother, a candidate in the election, was the subject of much of the chatter.

Using Supreme Court Rule 224 (Ill. S. Ct. R. 224), she ultimately filed a petition on her son's behalf, seeking the discovery of a commenter’s identity (referred to as John Doe). The comments were allegedly defamatory of her child. Initially, the trial court ordered that the identity of the subscriber to the internet protocol (IP) address used by John Doe when posting on the website would be revealed to petitioner.

John Doe appealed. He asserted that the trial court applied the wrong standard because the challenged comments were not defamatory. John Doe also contended that the challenged comments were immune by the Citizen Participation Act, which protects the constitutional rights of citizens and organizations to be involved and participate freely in the process of government.

The appellate court held that John Doe’s identity should not be revealed because the minor’s mother did not allege enough facts to show a cause of action for defamation, which is required under Ill. S. Ct. R. 224. Based upon its ruling, the court did not address John Doe’s assertion that the challenged comments were immune by the Citizen Participation Act. However, this case serves as a reminder to elected officials that citizens have broad First Amendment rights that require elected officials to have thick skin.

Electioneering communications
Sorock v. Illinois State Board of Elections, No. 11-2740 (Ill. App. 1st July 13, 2012)
Shari Gottlieb, a self-employed web designer, volunteered her services and designed a website which was used by Citizens for Wilmette Schools (committee). She sent the committee notice of an in-kind contribution valuing her work at $3,435. The committee did not file a schedule A-1 form for Gottlieb’s work, which is required for contributions greater than $1,000. After the election, the committee included Gottlieb’s work in its quarterly D-2 report, but later amended the D-2 to remove Gottlieb’s work. Wilmette resident Herbert Sorock filed a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections (board) which was dismissed.

Sorock appealed the dismissal arguing that the board improperly interpreted two relevant provisions of the election code. Sorock argued that Gottlieb’s time was an in-kind contribution under the statute and should have been reported. Alternatively, he argued that Gottlieb’s work meets the statutory definition of an electioneering communication and was therefore subject to disclosure. The court agreed with the board’s decision that Gottlieb’s work was not an in-kind contribution. The section of the statute which defines contributions provides that “any individual services provided voluntarily and without promise or expectation of compensation from any source shall not be deemed a contribution”. The court agreed with the board’s decision that Gottlieb’s work qualified for this exception and was not a contribution. The court concluded that the work could not be an electioneering communication because it did not communicate anything. As a web designer, Gottlieb had designed and programmed a graphical layout but had not authored the language of the site. The court affirmed the decision of the board, dismissing Sorock’s complaint.

Jared Boyer, IASB Extern

The Board of Education of Du Page High School District 88 v. Pollastrini, 2013 IL App (2d) 120460 (August 29, 2013).
A subdivision petitioned to be detached from its current school district and annexed to another school district. However, sixteen of the relevant signatures deviated from the signatures recorded with the county election authority. These sixteen signatures were crucial to the eligibility of the petition. The Board granted the petition, but the Illinois circuit court reversed that decision and the appellate court agreed.

The circuit court disagreed with the Board and determined that the relevant sixteen signatures did not substantially comply with the statute. The court found that using initials for either the first or last name, omitting the first name, or writing in print rather than cursive made the signatures substantially noncompliant. Neither the ability to identify the voter by the signature, nor the voter’s willingness to testify, substantially satisfy the statute’s requirement that the signatures match the voting record.

Brennan McLoughlin, IASB Law Clerk

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