After a hearing that lasted two-and-a-half hours, members of Evanston’s Electoral Board this noon promised to act Wednesday on objections filed by one mayoral candidate seeking to kick the four other candidates off the ballot.

Candidate Jeff Smith, an attorney who describes himself as an expert on election law, spent over an hour explaining why he believes he was the only candidate to file nominating petitions during the correct time period, and why he believed the petitions filed by the other candidates would confuse voters about the time and nature of the election.

But James Nally, an attorney representing candidate Steve Hagerty, argued the board had already decided the substance of the challenges to the petitions last month when it dismissed challenges filed by a supporter of mayoral candidate Brian Miller against Hagerty and the other candidates who filed in November.

“There’s nothing for this board to decide here,” Nally said. “There’s been a final judgment on the merits.”

Ed Mullen.

Ed Mullen, representing candidate Mark Tendam, said Smith was trying to overturn the electoral system that has been set up in law and in practice in Evanston for 30 years and completely change it.

Among the audience at the board meeting were backers of the various candidates — some of whom expressed mock surprise that though Smith has been an Evanston resident and political activist for decades, he only raised issues about the city’s election practices now when they could clear his way to an uncontested victory in the mayoral race.

The state’s election law is quite complex, and Smith argued that despite a common belief that Evanston had adopted a non-partisan election system, it actually had never done so and that candidates were free to file either with party labels or to run as independents.

If multiple candidates filed under the same party label, they would face a primary election in February, but independent candidates would only appear on the April consolidated general election ballot.

Having filed his petitions as an independent candidate, Smith argued, among other things, that he should not have to compete with other candiates in a February primary.

Electoral Board members Rodney Green, Elizabeth Tisdahl and Ann Rainey, as Assistant City Attorney Mario Treto rises to enter documents into evidence at the hearing.

Smith also raised questions about the continued validity of a 1992 referendum vote that called for a primary in the mayoral race any time there were more than two candidates, whether a 2012 rewrite of the city code had wiped out any previous Evanston-specific variations from the general provisions of the state election code and why city officials failed to identify any local ordinance provisions governing the election process in response to Freedom of Information Act requests he filed.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who chairs the Electoral Board, stressed as the meeting began that the tradition in Evanston has been to favor ballot access and that objections that led to the removal of a candidate from the ballot have been unusual here.

Wednesday’s board meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Room 2404 of the Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Dirty tricksters and fools

    Now that Smith and Miller have revealed themselves to be both dirty tricksters and fools, let’s move forward to fairly elect our next Mayor in a clean election.

  2. Raising the subject

    The audience member paraphrased as wondering why I didn’t raise this before now might be the first time anyone has suggested I’ve spoken out on too FEW issues in Evanston. I don’t think I can fairly be called a civic wallflower! 🙂

    Seriously, it’s an understandable question, but the answer is easy. Until a primary was announced, I was planning on an April election and only an April election. It’s not just that I don’t want to run in Feb. – I don’t think ANYONE in Evanston should be in a Chicago-style Feb. election. Until this election cycle, everyone had always filed in December, there’d been no primary in over two decades, and three of the last 5 mayoral races had been uncontested, so doing it wrong was moot. I first looked deeper into the situation about 8 years ago, and did privately express concern to a number of candidates and officials over the years that I thought there was a mis-assumption, and that filings could be in jeopardy. I never had time to plumb it completely and wasn’t going to go out of my way to undermine folks just for academic purpose. But in 2012, the last time I presented to Leadership Evanston on the municipal filing process, my public advice to potential candidates and civic leaders was that many in Evanston were understandably but erroneously treating its elections as nonpartisan. I handed out examples of 2 correct petitions: a party petition and independent petition — no “nonpartisan petition” — and clearly said that filing period for the latter was in December.

    Then 4 yr. later this happened. I’d never seen a similar fiasco over the mayoral petition filing dates, or a gaggle of candidates stampeding to file — in November — petitions they’d prepared for filing in December, with the rules getting switched in the very middle of a period that is supposed to be set law. This spectacle was actually the final straw that triggered my circulating petitions despite some good personal reasons for not running, because it didn’t suggest thoughtful leadership. And I wouldn’t have filed if the City had come up with some forgotten law requiring nonpartisanship. So I didn’t plan to file with any “advantage.” The other candidates surprised me by disadvantaging themselves, and the suggestion that despite filing correctly I would be at the bottom of the ballot in a primary I didn’t even file for, despite state law and a City code that don’t mention it, was a second surprise.

    1. Let me get this straight

      So you are just doing all of the Evanston voters a favor by throwing all of the other candidates off the ballot and installing yourself as the next mayor? There had to be other avenues for you to address what you want corrected. 

      How about this–let the election go ahead with all of the current mayoral candidates then work with the City Council after the election (whether you are the mayor or not) to fix these technical problems then? If you are truly interested in improving the process, that is what you can do. 

      If, instead, you want to eliminate all of your competition so you can automatically be installed as mayor, keep doing what you are doing. But I won’t vote for you and I will campaign for a strong write-in candidate to defeat you as I will know that this was all about you and your claim of just wanting to help the process was a ruse. 

      Game playing with our election. Yuck. 

      1. Not mutually exclusive
        If Smith were to try to resolve this after the fact, the argument would be that he did nothing about it before the election. He might not intend to actually succeed in kicking other candidates off of the ballot, but if he did nothing now, he’d be making it much harder to clarify the process later.

    2. This seems more like a
      This seems more like a personal vendetta of yours rather than any sort of concern for the election.

    3. Dusty closets

      According to this Daily Northwestern article  , Jeff Smith said

      “The idea that people prepare a campaign and prepare to file and at the last minute someone pulls some … piece of history out of a dusty closet … what could be more prejudicial to ballot access than that,”

      I agree.  There are four candidates who prepared a campaign and filed, in accordance with the City Clerk’s direction…and now some guy is trying to pull some piece of history from a dusty closet.

  3. Still don’t get it

    “let’s move forward to fairly elect our next Mayor in a clean election.” Which one? A primary and a run-off? Or just a single election? There’s a big difference between one and two elections! This situation is precisely why clear rules are required. Jeff Smith is forcing clarity.

    1. Wrong

      Jeff Smith is forcing his opponents off the ballot, leaving voters with one choice for mayor. 

    2. Not requiring brain surgery–simple explanation will do for all

      I believe that the Election Commission has already addressed this. There is a primary. Top voter getters face off in the general election.

      Smith has raised the issue. Now drop it so we have a choice of candidates for the office.

      If we don’t have a choice in the election due to Smith’s gamesmanship, he is getting all the blame. Why? Because he could have raised the issue then helped address it (he is, after all, learned in election law) without robbing all of us of every other choice for mayor. 

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