By the time the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners finished its rulings last week, 63 aldermanic candidates had been removed from the ballot, according to Aldertrack. That left three more wards (in addition to four where no challengers filed) where incumbent aldermen face no opposition.
For the record, the three aldermen who used the electoral machinery to deny their constituents a choice in the election are George Cardenas (12th), Jason Ervin (28th), and Ariel Reboyras (30th).
In the 12th Ward, however, Pete DeMay has filed a Circuit Court petition challenging the Election Board’s decision, charging among other things that the signature requirement in this election violates the Voting Rights Act.
DeMay, a longtime union organizer, cast himself as a progressive alternative, calling for a $15 minimum wage, an elected school board, elimination of TIFs and a moratorium on new charter schools. He’s supporting Jesus Garcia’s mayoral bid.
Cardenas has been a dependable City Council vote for Mayor Emanuel and has backed charter schools moving into the ward, including the scandal-plagued UNO and Concept charter chains. He is remembered by some for turning out the lights of his ward office and hiding when a group came to talk to him about closing the city’s mental health clinic in Back of the Yards.
DeMay filed more than 2,100 signatures in December, more than four times the requirement of 473. In its initial review, the board threw out two-thirds of his signatures as invalid.
The signature check is a wildly arbitrary process where any signature can be tossed if it isn’t identical to what’s on a voter’s registration card. It’s an easy way to clear the path for incumbents — especially since one’s signature can vary significantly.
You’d think the burden of proof should be on the party disqualifying a signature, particularly since the act effectively disenfranchises a citizen. Instead it’s up to the candidate to prove his signatures are valid. With enough signature challenges, that’s virtually impossible.
“The process is like a game,” said Frank Avila Jr., DeMay’s attorney. “It doesn’t get to the truth of the matter.”
But at that point, DeMay still had 719 signatures, well within the requirement. Then Cardenas’ objectors produced three witnesses and 34 affidavits by signers of petitions that DeMay himself had circulated. They said they’d signed the petition, but DeMay wasn’t the person passing it. The objectors said this constituted a “pattern of fraud” and that all the petitions DeMay had circulated should be tossed.
DeMay submitted 57 affidavits from voters who said they’d signed the petition and that Pete DeMay was the circulator.
A hearing officer ruled there was fraud and tossed 312 remaining signatures that DeMay had collected.
Avila said case law doesn’t support the ruling of fraud. He says the witnesses had serious credibility issues, he believes “the witnesses and affidavits [offered by the objectors] were fraudulent.” But even if petition sheets got mixed up and DeMay signed some that had been passed by someone else, the practice in other cases has been to disqualify the individual sheets that were challenged, not the entire batch.
Avila also noted that more than half the signers of the objectors’ affidavits had been ruled invalid in the Election Board’s first review. He argued that meant their affidavits should be tossed. But it also highlights the inaccuracy of the signature review process — 18 people whose signatures were ruled invalid signed affidavits saying that yes, they’d signed the petition, just not in front of DeMay.
In any case, the ruling was a problem because DeMay — who as an organizer is well accustomed to knocking on doors — collected about half the signatures he turned in.
“It was so easy to get signatures,” he said. “Just go stand in front of Walgreens or walk down the block. No one really likes this guy. You can get legitimate signatures more easily than you can forge them. Why would I do that?”
The ruling meant he was left with 407 valid signatures — and was off the ballot. In an appeal to the Election Board itself, Avila also complained about 129 petition signers who had been ruled “out of district.” That number alone would have been enough to get DeMay reinstated.
Checking later, the DeMay campaign found that signers ruled out of district in fact lived inside the ward, though generally outside the pre-2012 remap lines. They surmised that the board’s database was based on the old boundaries. The Election Board refused to consider the issue on procedural grounds.
DeMay’s court petition challenges the “pattern of fraud” ruling and also challenges the requirement of 473 signatures in the 12th Ward. State election law requires signatures amounting to 4 percent of voters in the previous aldermanic election. But because there was a remap in 2012, the signature requirement was based the citywide vote, averaged out for 50 Wards.
The 12th Ward is a low turnout ward — in part because ward boundaries are based on population, not voting rolls, and many immigrants in the ward can’t vote. According to Avila, the 473 number amounts to 13 percent of the turnout in the ward in 2011 — and that’s far above anything the courts have held to be reasonable. He says it’s a violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.
What chances does DeMay have? Avila points out he was Manny Flores’ attorney in 2003 when the Illinois Supreme Court overruled the Election Board and put Flores back on the ballot in the 1st Ward aldermanic race; Flores went on to win.
“People want a choice,” DeMay said. “People want to change what’s going on in the ward. Crime is high, unemployment and poverty are high, schools are underfunded. This is not a dictatorship, this is a democracy, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure people have a choice on election day.”
That’s true in the other two wards where incumbents swept the opposition off the ballot.
In the 30th, where 2,000 signatures for 19-year-old Edgar Esparza were disqualified because they weren’t bound according to regulation, Esparza has filed as a write-in candidate.
In the 28th Ward, opposition candidates are considering mounting a write-in campaign, said Tammy Vinson, a special-education teacher who was the last of seven challengers to be disqualified.
“I think the process is flawed,” said Vinson. “The Election Board seems to consistently rule for the incumbent.”
She said Ervin “is absolutely beatable,” especially as a loyalist to the unpopular mayor.
“Big areas of the ward are being hurt by their policies. School closing hit this community hard. There’s such a need for housing and jobs. And [Ervin] is consistently voting against the best interests of the ward.”
But thanks to the Chicago Election Board, he’s the only name on the ballot.