The City of DeKalb recently completed the process of accepting nominating petitions and related paperwork for those seeking to run for City elected positions that will be up for election in the 2017 municipal elections. In the course of the filing period, there was some apparent confusion by candidates and/or members of the public regarding the nature of elections in the City, the appropriate forms to utilize, and the role of the City’s Local Election Authority.
Fact One: The City of DeKalb, like most municipalities, utilizes partisan elections.
Illinois has a system of elections for local government where elections are either “partisan” or “nonpartisan.” In partisan elections, an individual may either run for office as a member of a local party or may run for office as an independent candidate. In nonpartisan elections, all candidates run without a party. The Illinois State Board of Elections has developed draft nominating documentation for persons seeking office as a partisan candidate in a partisan election, as an independent candidate in a partisan election, or as a nonpartisan candidate in a nonpartisan election.
While it may seem unusual, the City of DeKalb uses partisan elections under Illinois law. Under the Illinois Municipal Code, unless a city, village or town goes through a process of converting to nonpartisan elections, the election of local officials (mayor, clerk, aldermen) is through a partisan election process. While there is a process for utilizing local political parties, the vast majority of candidates in local elections technically run as “independent” candidates in a partisan election.
A review of nominating petitions filed with the City of DeKalb going back to 1989 shows that, with a few rare exceptions of individuals who apparently ran under a party name, the overwhelming majority of persons running for office over the past nearly thirty years ran as independent candidates and were certified as independent candidates. From 1989 to 2011, every individual who ran for office filed either as an independent candidate or as a partisan candidate (all in partisan elections). In 2013, one candidate filed a nonpartisan nominating petition, and in 2015, two candidates filed nonpartisan nominating petitions. It is unknown why those individuals elected to use an alternate form of nominating
Fact Two: Provided that a nominating petition meets all statutory requirements, it is a valid nominating petition.
In the aftermath of filings for the 2017 elections, it was apparent that some individuals used independent candidate nominating petitions and some used nonpartisan candidate nominating petitions. City representatives received inquiries regarding whether the wrong nominating petitions had been filed, or whether the nominating petitions were invalid. At the time (for the reasons described in Fact Four below), the City did not respond officially to those inquiries. The question remains: what is the appropriate form of nominating
Under Illinois law, a candidate for public office may not be required to utilize any specific form. If their documentation includes all information required by law, the documentation may be valid. According to the State Board of Elections, the forms that they generate are provided for convenience,
but are not required to be used. The State Board has advised that there are no reported decisions that they are aware of which indicate whether the use of the improper nominating petition (e.g. using a “partisan” nominating petition in a nonpartisan race) is a fatal flaw that would invalidate a nominating petition. As long as the nominating documentation meets all minimum requirements, the State Board has indicated that it likely would be a valid nominating petition.
Fact Three: Technically, the correct nominating petitions for the City of DeKalb are partisan nominating petitions.
Because the City uses (and has long used) partisan elections, and because the City has never converted to nonpartisan elections, partisan election forms are technically the appropriate forms for use by candidates for City offices. As noted above, partisan nominating petitions are available both in a format contemplating a local political party,
and in a format contemplating an independent candidate. There is no real basis for controversy over this point; decades of election records show that the City has taken this position as far back as records are available. As noted above
however, simply because a candidate uses a nonpartisan nominating petition does not necessarily mean that their petition is invalid.
Fact Four: City personnel cannot provide election advice to candidates for public office about the election process without jeopardizing their independent role in the election process.
Some have asked whether the City’s staff or City Clerk should provide candidates for office with information or resources relating to the conduct of the election or the filing of nominating petitions. It has been indicated that at times in the past, previous City Clerks have provided advice or recommendations to candidates with regard to their filing obligations when seeking public office.
Current City practice, as determined by the City Clerk and City staff, is to not provide advice relating to the election process, during the nominating period or the lead up to such period. The reason for this policy is simple. Once a nominating petition is filed, any registered voter in the City can file an objection to the nominating petition. If an objection is filed, under Illinois law, the objection is heard by the Municipal Officers Electoral Hearing Board—a Board comprised of local officials including the City Clerk. If the City Clerk gave an individual running for public office election-related advice and that advice later formed the basis of an election objection, the Clerk would be placed in the untenable position of having to rule upon the correctness of her earlier advice, or would be obligated to not perform her duty of serving on the Hearing Board. Additionally, the Clerk has no way of ensuring that each person seeking public office receives the same information. There have been cases in some municipalities where the municipal clerk provided information to a candidate or performed an election-related service for a candidate, or where a candidate assumed that the clerk was providing information or performing a service, and where the situation resulted in the filing of an election objection and the removal of the candidate from the ballot.
Because of this, the City Clerk and her deputy clerks perform all statutory obligations related to their service as the Local Election Authority under Illinois law,
and work to diligently avoid creating situations that are a conflict of interest or which potentially undermine the integrity of the local election process.
Fact Five: The City Clerk is required to accept the filing of nominating papers that appear to be valid.
Under Illinois law, the City Clerk is required to accept the filing of nominating papers that are filed “in apparent conformity” with the law. If there is a major, facial flaw evident, the Clerk has a limited ability to refuse to accept a filing. However, if the papers filed are in apparent conformity, they must be accepted. The reason for this law is simple: the law favors ballot access,
and tries to avoid a situation where one individual public official is the gatekeeper for who can and cannot run for office. Additionally, the Election Code has the objection process (described above), which gives each registered voter in the City the ability to personally review nominating papers as filed, and the ability to file an objection to any nonconformity or defect.
Fact Six: The City Clerk and all City personnel performed all election related duties in accordance with the law.
The City Clerk and all City staff take the responsibility of the local election authority’s role in conducting municipal elections seriously. They diligently researched their obligations and prepared an orderly process for the filing of nominating papers that fully complied with the law, treated all candidates with respect, maintained the independence of the City in the election process, and ensured that the Clerk could fully perform her role in any aspect of the election process, including the conduct of nominating petition-related objection hearings.
The timeline for the filing of nominating petitions and the timeline for filing
of election objections has now passed, and in order to ensure that the public has accurate and full information, this information is being provided.