The clock is ticking to resolve a dispute over the signatures collected to put a referendum on November’s ballot to dissolve the Bloomington Election Commission.
Denise Williams, a Democrat and one of three commissioners on the BEC, filed a formal challenge late Monday in McLean County court. She claims hundreds of the signatures collected by Libertarians and Republicans are invalid and that the referendum shouldn’t make it onto the ballot.
Williams’ challenge aims to chip away in various ways at the 1,300 collected signatures, looking to bring the total number of verified signatures below the minimum 1,000 threshold to get on the ballot.
For example, Williams claims 104 names were printed and not signed. She says 67 signatures came from people not living in Bloomington. And she says the heading on 12 of the 116 pages of signatures were inconsistently marked, with an “X” over the “Yes” within the proposed public question of “Shall the city election law be rejected?” Williams said that’s “obvious electioneering” and should invalidate 158 signatures.
Williams called those issues “fatal flaws.”
“When we started getting issue after issue after issue, I realized this was too big to say, ‘OK fine, nevermind.’ We needed everybody to look at this,” Williams told GLT on Tuesday.
Republicans and Libertarians have defended their signature-collection process and say they're confident they'll remain over the 1,000-signature threshold.
Williams’ challenge—and the original petition filed by Republican Party chair Connie Beard asking to get the referendum placed on the ballot—are both pending in front of Judge Paul Lawrence. Williams said she expects her challenge to heard by the judge within the next week.
The ballot certification deadline for referenda like this is Aug. 30, so there’s enough time to prepare ballots before early voting, said BEC Assistant Executive Director Carrie Robinson.
“It’s all new to us,” added McLean County Circuit Clerk Don Everhart, a Republican whose office handles court filings and lawsuits. “Nobody remembers anything like this before.”
Williams filed her challenge as a Bloomington voter, not as a BEC commissioner or a Democrat, though she said she worked with the McLean County Democrats on the issue. She said she worked with “several Democrats and a Republican (who) came in and reviewed the 116 pages” for potential issues.
Republicans and Libertarians have criticized Democrats over the challenge, saying it will take the choice away from voters. Williams said it’s not about choice.
“I want to make sure everything is done fairly in the petition and with as many issues as we have, things weren’t done fairly or done correctly. That’s what my concern is,” she said.
Williams said she opposes the elimination of the BEC but supports the creation of a countywide nonpartisan election authority.
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.
McLean County Democratic Party chair Erik 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. He says they want to see steps taken toward a nonpartisan countywide election authority before BEC is dissolved.
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