After some seven hours of testimony and deliberations, over two evenings, the Ela Township Electoral Board decided that the Ela First Party should stay on the ballot for the April 9 election.
The Ela Tax Reform slate challenged the petition papers saying the Ela First Party did not have enough signatures from eligible voters and claiming a pattern of fraud in obtaining signatures.
“Obviously, we’re happy with the decision and we thought it was the right decision. Now we look forward to a positive campaign in which we can talk about all the wonderful things we were able to do for the community and to be able to continue to do that,” said Ela Township Assessor John Barrington, speaking for Ela First, after the decision at Ela Town Hall, Wednesday night.
“I’m very disappointed for the people of Ela Township. There were signed affidavits from people who swore they did not sign the petitions. That said, I look forward to a campaign that shows our slate is the best and the open and honest slate,” said Barbara Evans, supervisor candidate on the Ela Tax Reform slate.
The electoral board decided, after throwing out numerous signatures, that the Ela First Party still had 539 signatures, which is sufficient.
“My understanding of the law is that it has to be a pattern of fraud, it has to be intentional,” said electoral board chairman Eric Stubenvoll, a Deer Park attorney.
Ela First incumbent Trustee Larry Bowman testified that he gathered signatures at a large party.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Bowman, or someone Mr. Bowman knew, signed the other signatures. It may not be the best practice to have petitions signed at a large gathering, “ said electoral board member Joseph Menges, a North Barrington attorney.
“I do not see a pattern of fraud. I believe when you bring petitions to a large gathering it is possible and easy not to have your eyes on it at all moments,” said electoral board member and Ela Township Trustee Anne Dobbertin.
Township attorney Henry Tonigan also assisted at the hearing.
In closing statements, the objector’s attorney Matt Flamm argued that the election code requires integrity. He noted that there were seven affidavits from people who said they did not sign the petitions. He argued that requests for examination of petitions is ruled by the election code, not the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Flamm argued that Township Clerk Bill Donnan, who is also a candidate on Ela First, delayed handing over copies of the slate’s petitions for nine days. He said when the copies were handed over, they contained six more pages than what witnesses originally saw.
“You should strike the signatures and strike the members of this party from the ballot, “ Flamm said.
Ela First slate defending attorney Brian Winter responded that the petitions still had 539 signatures; the minimum number required is 432.
“There was nowhere near a pattern of fraud. You do not have to hand a petition to a signer,” Winter said.
The electoral board agreed that there was no evidence that pages had been added to the petition.
Following the ruling, the electoral board allowed public comment. Three people spoke in support of the Ela First Party and the ruling.
“One of most important things we have is integrity of the ballot process. Half of that is not just the ballot process; it’s the access to the ballot itself,” Jim Tarbet said.
The Ela Tax Reform slate consists of: Barbara Evans for supervisor, Wayne Wnek for assessor, Randy Abbott for highway commissioner, Paul Jankowski for clerk, and Vaseem Iftekhar, Nancy Shepherdson, Mike Jennings and Nick Buris for trustee.
Ela First party consists of Lucy Prouty for supervisor; John Barrington for assessor; Bill Donnan for clerk; Bill Kruckenberg for highway commissioner; and, Nancy Thompson, Larry Bowman, Jack Reck and Lynn O'Brien for trustee. All candidates except for O'Brien are incumbents.