The list of names on the ballot for Peoria mayor is down to five after challenges to the nominating petitions for Couri Thomas and Rev. Chuck Brown were upheld in a Tuesday hearing.
The Peoria County Election Commission’s board voted in favor of Anthony Walraven’s challenges that alleged neither candidate filed enough valid signatures.
The five-member board accepted Executive Director Tom Bride’s findings that both Thomas and Brown fell short of the 134 necessary valid signatures on their nominating petitions, which is equal to 1% of the number of votes cast in the 2017 mayoral election.
“The rules were set up a certain way. Everybody has to comply with them,” said attorney Rob Hanauer, appearing on Walraven’s behalf. Hanauer argued it would be improper for the board to keep either candidate on the ballot without them having met the requirement for valid signatures.
After the hearing, Brown posted a message on Facebook announcing he intends to remain in the race as a registered write-in candidate.
“I’m not sure historically if it’s ever been done, but I will be the first write-in mayor of Peoria,” Brown said. “I have a dynamic economic plan, a plan for social justice that will bring us together as a community. I have a plan to make life manageable and safe for our community to turn things around.”
Thomas, who received 45% of the vote in his head-to-head race with Ardis in the last election, said he believed his removal from the ballot would “exclude voices in this community” from participating in the democratic process.
“There are a lot of people, as proven in 2017, that my candidacy has – what was brought to me as encouragement – paved, broken the ice road for more candidacy and more participation,” said Thomas. “I'm definitely a grassroot candidate, so I want to represent those that aren’t being heard.”
Walraven challenged 78 of the 199 signatures submitted by Thomas and 59 of the 137 filed by Brown. In his testimony, Bride said 68 of the Thomas signatures and 52 of those for Brown were either not registered voters, not registered at the listed address, or not registered in the city of Peoria.
“The laws of the state of Illinois are clear; this is required,” said Hanauer. “There's a required number of signatures: 134. Many of the people aren't registered voters at all. So it's not like you're disenfranchising voters, they're not voters.”
With the removals, five candidates remain on the ballot to follow incumbent Mayor Jim Ardis: current council members Rita Ali, Jim Montelongo and Sid Ruckreigel, along with Andres Diaz and Chama St. Louis. Ardis decided not to seek a fifth term.
Thomas argued he wasn’t given sufficient time to prepare for the hearing and suggested the COVID-19 played a role in him falling three signatures shy of the requirement.
“During this pandemic, it's been very hard for everybody – and it's an even playing field, I understand,” said Thomas. “But you know, some of the regular rules of getting petitions signed, it was just kind of hard.”
Bride said his office did not consider Walraven’s request to invalidate an entire page of Thomas’ signatures that listed the candidate’s name as simply “Peoria.”
“The analysis we did was whether or not the signature that was objected to was a valid registered voter or not,” said Bride. “We did not look into whether or not the whole sheet should be declared invalid based on other information on the sheet.”
While Brown did not dispute the findings, he argued that Walraven did not file his challenge within five business days of the Nov. 23 deadline for submitting the nomination petitions. He noted that the day after Thanksgiving was not a federal holiday.
“They filed on Wednesday and 3:05 (p.m.), which was past the deadline for filing an objection to the candidates’ petitions. That’s just math,” Brown said.
However, a memo from the Illinois State Board of Elections indicated that deadline would be extended to a sixth day if the local election commission office was closed on the previous Friday. Bride testified the PCEC office was indeed closed on Nov. 27.
The vote on Thomas’ case was unanimous, while Sandy Burke voted against Brown’s removal. Burke’s motion to reject the challenge against Brown and keep him on the ballot failed without a second.
While he acknowledged Walraven’s right to file the objection and the board’s authority to determine his eligibility, he felt his removal was not in the community’s best interest.
“Technical errors on campaign ballots should not decide the voice of the people,” Brown said. “That gentlemen felt it was his civic duty to do what he did. Me personally, I feel the voice of the people is more important, and that’s what we’re going to hear come Feb. 23.”
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