Cook County Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

Appeals court: Towns can empanel multiple local electoral boards to resolve conflicts of interest

By Dan Churney | Mar 2, 2017

Chicago suburbs view 1

An Illinois appeals panel has upheld a Cook County judge, who ruled suburban Hazel Crest can convene multiple electoral boards to hear objections to candidate nominations, because regular board members are disqualified, in that they are also candidates facing the objections. 

The Feb. 23 decision was penned by Justice Nathaniel Howse Jr. of the Illinois First District Appellate Court, with concurrence from justices Margaret McBride and Eileen O’Neill Burke. The court filed the decision under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23, which means it may not be cited as precedent, except in the limited circumstances permitted by the rule. 

The ruling went against Nkyia Ervin in her action against the village of Hazel Crest’s Municipal Officers Electoral Board. Hazel Crest, which is in southern Cook County, has a population of about 14,100. 

Illinois First District Appellate Court

Ervin filed petitions Dec. 27 challenging the nominating petitions of 10 potential candidates for village offices, including Village President Vernard Alsberry Jr., the village clerk and the longest serving village trustee, all of whom were seeking reelection. 

These three officeholders are required by the Election Code to serve on the three-member Electoral Board, which reviews objections. However, because these officials are also candidates subject to the objections, conflict of interest came into play. As a consequence, the village asked Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans to appoint three people, from the public at large, to act as substitutes on the Electoral Board. 

The court did so, resulting, because of the varying conflicts and permutations, in the creation of four boards, comprising seven members – the three members of the public and four candidates. The reason for this arrangement was some candidates were ineligible to address some objections and eligible to address others. 

The second-longest serving trustee, who is also running for reelection, was added to the mix, because the Election Code demands the presence of the village board member holding this distinction on the election board when the senior trustee is not eligible. This trustee covered those objections for which the senior trustee was disqualified. 

On Jan. 9, Ervin went to Cook County Circuit Court for an emergency injunction, alleging the village violated the Election Code by improperly including the four candidates on the boards, when there should only be one board with the three court-appointed members. 

On Jan. 10, Circuit Judge Sharon Sullivan refused to act against the village, saying the village can field multiple boards when members are ineligible to hear and pass judgment on objections. Ervin appealed, but the appellate court backed Sullivan.

Ervin argued on appeal the Election Code allows for an “electoral board,” not boards. Further, Ervin contended the board is limited to three members, but the village combined seven people into four boards. 

Justice Howse said the village can constitute more than one board to handle more than one objection, with each board having a different makeup. 

“It is the filing of an objection that triggers the creation of an electoral board, and each filing of an objection triggers the creation of a distinct electoral board. The board is formed in relation to a petition singularly, not an election generally,” Howse observed. 

Howse said Ervin wrongly contended all board members are ineligible to hear all objections, if they are ineligible to hear one objection. Rather, Howse pointed out a member-candidate is only disqualified from hearing an objection that pertains to the office for which the member-candidate is running. 

Municipal primary elections in Illinois were held Feb. 28. Consolidated elections are scheduled for April 4. Early voting for the consolidated elections began Feb. 23 and ends April 3.

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Illinois Supreme CourtIllinois First District Appellate CourtVillage of Hazel Crest