ILGL Feature Article
Submitted by Michael S. Hopkins and Christian G. Spesia (Spesia, Ayers & Ardaugh)
While not exactly a new case, Pochie v. Cook County Officers Electoral Bd. 289 Ill. App. 3d 585 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. 1997) recently played a decisive role before a suburban municipal officers electoral board, which was called to hear an objector’s petition against certain candidates preceding the April 7th Consolidated Election. Pochie allowed those candidates, whose nominating papers had been objected to, to defeat the objector’s petition on a 2-615 motion to dismiss. The Circuit Court subsequently upheld the Electoral Board’s dismissal.
In Pochie, the First District held that the requirement that objectors include their name and residence address on their filed objections is mandatory. Pochie, 289 Ill. App. 3d at 588. Just how strict this requirement is is apparent from the facts in Pochie. There, the objector actually included an address on her petition, and merely omitted the street name. Id. at 586. Nevertheless, the court held, “In our view, the objector’s address in the instant case cannot be readily determined from the number of the address on a street in the district without the name of the street.” Id. at 588. Further, the court rejected the objector’s argument that her standing could be easily ascertained from public records. Instead, the court issued the rule that “whether or not an objector has standing is determined according to the face of the petition and not according to what can be found in the records of the election commission.” Id. at 588.
Hence, the First District predicated its holding on the notion that a candidate whose nomination papers are objected to should be able to determine the standing of the objector on the face of the petition. Id. at 587.
Pochie offers no exceptions, and only one case distinguishes it: Morton v. State Officers Electoral Bd., 311 Ill. App. 3d 982 (Ill. App. 4th Dist. 2000). In Morton, the candidate argued that the objector failed to meet the requirements of Section10-8 because the petition stated the objector’s name as “Perry Smith,” when the person registered to vote at the given address was “Perry S. Smith Jr.” Id. at 983. The Morton court rejected this argument. Noteworthy in Morton, however, was the court’s willingness to compare the objector’s signature on his petition with the signature on his voter registration card. Id. at 986. However, the Morton court also noted that the issue in Pochie was not the same the issue it was dealing with. The court stated,
[In Pochie], the court held the objection to have been properly dismissed because the objector’s address could not readily be determined from the face of the objection merely from the number of an address on a street in the district without the name of the street. Here, in contrast, no similar substantial omission appears on the face of the objection petition. Id. at 986.
Objectors themselves can be “[a]ny legal voter of the political subdivision . . . in which the candidate . . . is to be voted on . . ., having objections to any certificate of nomination or nomination papers or petitions filed.” 10 ILCS 5/10-8.
Interestingly, the objections the objector made in the suburban case weren’t the expected fare of forged signatures, unregistered voter signatures, or other matters of substantial non-compliance with the statutory provisions candidates must abide by in preparing and filing their nominating papers. Instead, the petitioner embarked upon what is best described as an exercise in political proofreading. His objections, variously between the candidates, included: the sometimes omission of the candidates’ middle initials in their nomination papers; the word “Village” not being circled on a preprinted form; the omission of the name of the county where a signature was notarized; signers use of a zip code on a nominating petition, instead of naming the county in which they lived; a notary seal that omitted the year; petition signers use of ditto marks to indicate they lived at the same address as written in the line above; and a candidate’s indicating he was running for “president” instead of “village president.”
While surprising for their lack of substance, it is likewise notable that the objections were filed by the third candidate in a three-way race for village president, against his only two opponents. Therefore, the candidate was seeking to eliminate his competition before the first voter cast a ballot.
What he failed to do, however, was to include his address on his petition.
The candidates whose nominating papers were objected to noted this omission and filed their 2-615 motions to dismiss with the Municipal Electoral Board predicated on Pochie.
The petitioner/candidate tried to carve a Pochie exception, arguing before the Board that the holding in Pochie, a Chicago case, had no place in a smaller municipality. He also argued the candidates were estopped from denying they knew his address and sought to introduce evidence and testimony that his opponents knew him and where he lived.
The Electoral Board, however, ruled on the Pochie motions, and it dismissed the objections to both candidates without proceeding to the merits of the objections. The petitioner filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court, which affirmed the Electoral Board’s decision.
The case illustrates the potential pitfalls and expenses candidates and objectors may encounter if they are not fastidious about their adherence to statutory requirements. While the mandatory/directory debate can be entered into on many issues, the surest way to proceed is to comply with the letter of statute and avoid debate in the first place.
It also offers food for thought. The objector in the suburban case garnered less than five percent of the vote, against his much more evenly matched opponents. Had his objections been successful, however, this smallest share of the vote would have been the equivalent of a landslide victory.