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Democrats Plan To Challenge Signatures On Election Commission Referendum

Erik Rankin
Ryan Denham
McLean County Democratic Party chair Erik Rankin.

The chair of the McLean County Democrats said Monday that his party plans to file a formal challenge to the signatures collected to put a referendum on November’s ballot to dissolve the Bloomington Election Commission.

Erik Rankin told GLT the Democratic Party planned to file its challenge late Monday in McLean County court. Rankin said the “objector petition” would seek to invalidate hundreds of signatures collected by McLean County Libertarian and Republican party officials looking to fold the election commission’s duties into the county clerk’s office.

The Libertarians and Republicans turned in around 1,300 signatures last week. At least 1,000 valid signatures are needed for Bloomington election ballots to include the referendum. It would read, “Shall the city election law be rejected?”

“It was done very sloppily,” Rankin said. “We’ve got people who’ve signed twice. We have people who are not registered as voters who signed. We have people that are not living in the jurisdiction of the Bloomington Election Commission who signed. That was a pretty large amount of people.”

“It just seems the whole process was done very hastily,” he added. “If you can even potentially have close to 400 objections, then that tells you that the process wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been.”

"It just seems the whole process was done very hastily."

It wasn’t immediately clear late Monday what happens next. Rankin said the Democrats expect their objector petition will go in front of a judge within five days. McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard, who filed the 1,300 signatures with the court requesting the measure be placed on the ballot, said she is technically listed as the plaintiff in the case. Beard said she doesn’t know if her next court hearing date has even been set.

“It’s interesting that the Democrats are fighting against the voters having a choice, but if that’s what they want to pursue, that’s their option, I guess,” Beard told GLT.

Dissolving the BEC would be a step toward fixing an odd quirk of McLean County election law. The nonpartisan BEC administers elections in the City of Bloomington. But the partisan county clerk’s office administers elections in Normal and elsewhere in the county. Critics say the twin election authorities is inefficient and potentially confusing.

Rankin said most Democrats agree with the GOP and Libertarians that dissolving the BEC is a good idea. But he said Democrats don’t want to see its duties absorbed by the county clerk’s office. The current county clerk, Kathy Michael, is a Republican. Rankin said he’d feel the same way if Michael’s Democratic challenger, Nikita Richards, were elected in November.

Rankin said Democrats instead want to see steps taken toward a nonpartisan countywide election commission before the BEC is dissolved. He said the McLean County Board could create such a commission “contingent upon the dissolution” of the BEC.

“Our position is that elections are too important,” said Rankin, a McLean County Board member. “They should be left up to professionals that do this on a day in and day out basis.”

Multi-Party Dispute

The BEC issue is the latest fight between the county’s longtime majority party (GOP), the energized Democrats, and the Libertarians eager to prove they’re a legitimate political force locally.

McLean County Libertarian Party chair Steve Suess suggested Democrats were being hypocritical for raising election-law concerns about gerrymandering and voter suppression while trying to “suppress voter choice” on the BEC referendum.

“Whether or not you support the referendum is irrelevant at this point,” Suess said on Facebook. “Right now there are two camps: One group of people who want voters to have a choice in November, and another group of people who don't. I am extremely confident we have the validity to survive a challenge on the referendum petitions.”

Suess said many of the signatures were collected door-to-door, which he said tends to produce very high signature validity. He said others were collected at the McLean County Fair.

Beard said those collecting signatures were careful to ask if voters were registered in Bloomington. She said the party cross-checked some signatures against the voter rolls to confirm validity.

“When you’ve got that many signatures, you’re not gonna have 100 percent accuracy. But we feel with a high enough confidence that the percentages will be enough to the meet the 1,000-signature criteria,” Beard said.

Rankin said the problems Democrats found with the signatures caused them to act.

“In no way, shape or form am I or anybody else (with the McLean County Democrats) willing to go against the wishes of the people,” he said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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