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Normal's Electoral Board lays out ground rules and timeline for hearing objection to referendum

From left, Normal City Clerk Angie Huonker, Mayor and Electoral Board chair Chris Koos, and town attorney Brian Day at Monday's meeting.
Ryan Denham
From left, Normal City Clerk Angie Huonker, Mayor and Electoral Board chair Chris Koos, and town attorney Brian Day at Monday's meeting.

Normal’s Electoral Board laid out the ground rules Monday for how it will decide if a politically charged ballot question on overhauling town council elections makes it to the ballot in November.

Supporters want to ask voters whether to replace the Normal Town Council’s at-large form of representative government with one that is district-based, similar to what Bloomington has with its wards. They submitted a petition earlier this month with 2,200 signatures.

Patrick Dullard of Normal filed an objection to the petition last week, triggering the Electoral Board’s review.

That review will begin with a case management conference call Tuesday between Dullard, petition supporter and lead respondent Kathy Siracuse, and town attorney Brian Day. Day and City Clerk Angie Huonker are then scheduled to conduct a “records check” on Friday that can “initially determine the validity of most standard objections to individual signatures and circulators,” according to the Electoral Board’s adopted rules.

To determine validity, the board can look at whether the petition signer is a registered voter at the address provided, whether it’s really their signature, or whether they signed the petition more than once.

Dullard’s two-pronged objection claims supporters misinterpreted state law about which kind of communities can redistrict in this way. He also argued the petition “does not contain enough valid signatures of electors in the Town of Normal to meet the 5% threshold” required by state law. (Day, the town attorney, said petitioners would need just over 1,500 valid signatures to meet that 5% threshold, given there are around 30,000 registered voters in Normal. They claimed to turn in around 2,200 on Aug. 8.)

Written briefs are due by Friday. The bulk of the case will be heard during final arguments set for 3 p.m. Aug. 29. If either side is unhappy with the board’s written decision, they can appeal to the courts. The clock is ticking; early voting begins Sept. 29.

“This hearing is … about whether the submitted petition is in proper order under the state statute. It’s not about the merits of the referendum or whether the town should be divided into wards,” said Normal Mayor Chris Koos, who is serving as chair of the Electoral Board. The other two members of the board are clerk Huonker and town council member Kevin McCarthy.

Siracuse, one of many signature-collectors, is identified as the lead respondent. She is the one who turned the signatures in on Aug. 8. Siracuse and another petition supporter, former mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli, asked during Monday’s meeting whether other people could be added as co-respondents to the Electoral Board’s case. Koos said no. Siracuse said she has trouble reading the petitions and could use the help as the case unfolds.

Supporters argue that having each town council member represent just one of six districts — instead of the whole town — will make it easier to run for office and provide more responsive representation. Critics of the idea, including Koos, say it's a “solution in search of a problem.”

Supporters of the referendum have tried to argue it is not political. The petition signatures were collected by an array of politically active Twin City figures, including many prominent conservatives who have butted heads with current town leadership.

That includes Tiritilli and current Normal Town Council member Stan Nord, plus former town council candidate and now McLean County Board candidate Steve Harsh, former Republican state representative candidate Jim Fisher, Cities 92.9 staff member Catrina Petersen and Cities host Steve Suess, and BLN News blogger Diane Benjamin. Also collecting signatures was Krystle Able, a Democrat whose appointment to the county board was just narrowly rejected.

“This is what the people of Normal want, and this is what they deserve,” said Alice Sheetz, a petition supporter and one of two people who spoke during public comment at Monday’s meeting.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.