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Board promises mayoral ballot decision Wednesday

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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.

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