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Judge: Bloomington Election Referendum Will Appear On Ballot

I Voted stickers on a roll
Judge Paul Lawrence issued his ruling Thursday in McLean County court.

Voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to dissolve the Bloomington Election Commission after a judge decided Thursday that Republicans and Libertarians had collected enough signatures for it to make the ballot.

Libertarians and the GOP collected 1,345 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. But Denise Williams, one of three BEC commissioners, challenged hundreds of those signatures, saying they were invalid for various reasons. Williams was backed by Democrats who oppose dissolving the BEC in this way.

Judge Paul Lawrence ruled in favor of the Republicans and Libertarians, finding only 158 invalid signatures. That leaves more than the 1,000 minimum valid signatures needed for a ballot question.

“We feel that this was our duty and responsibility to make sure that the correct procedures were followed and that signatures were gathered in a proper and legal manner,” the McLean County Democrats said in a statement Thursday. “We honor the judge’s decision, even though we disagree, and know now, more than ever, that the only way to effect change is at the ballot box.”

Williams challenged around 600 of the 1,345 signatures on 10 fronts. Williams and her attorney, Josh Rohrscheib, argued that Lawrence should throw out 131 signatures because those people were not registered to vote in Bloomington, another 104 because the names were printed and not signed, and 126 more because the page headings were inconsistently marked—allegedly by the petition circulators.

Lawrence disagreed with several of Williams’ claims. He said the page headings all had the same printed text and therefore should not disqualify the signatures on those pages. He also didn’t invalidate the printed signatures, citing state law requiring that petitions “be signed by registered voters in their ‘own proper persons only,’” saying Williams failed to prove that they weren’t. Lawrence also declined to toss out 66 names whose signatures Williams said did not match their voter signature on file.

“No handwriting analysis evidence was presented. The only evidence presented was the subjective opinion of (Williams) – that the signatures were different from the signatures on the voter registrations,” Lawrence wrote. “As (Williams) has the burden of proof, the court is unable to find that she has proven that the signatures on the petitions were not made by the signers ‘in their own proper person.’”

McLean County Republican Party chair Connie Beard, who filed and later defended the signatures in court, told GLT she was "very pleased" with the ruling.

"We're grateful that our cross-partisan work (of the GOP and Libertarians) was heard and recognized," Beard said. "It's very satisfying to know the voters will have a choice."

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.

Democrats, including Williams, say they don’t want to dissolve the BEC without first taking steps toward the creation of a countywide election commission to replace it. Democrats say they’re opposed to handing over election duties to the elected county clerk—currently Republican Kathy Michael.

“It is a black mark on the Democratic Party in McLean County that such effort was given to stop voters from having a choice in their election processes,” the McLean County GOP said on Facebook.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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