Appeals panel: Write-in candidates must file with both Cook County clerk, Chicago Elections Board

By Justin Stoltzfus | Feb 26, 2018

CHICAGO — A panel of Illinois appellate justices has unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision to reject a complaint by a write-in candidate case, saying he needed to declare his intent to run with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, and not only with the Cook County Clerk's office. 

The Feb. 13 decision was delivered by Justice Nathaniel R. Howse Jr. in Illinois First District Appellate Court. Justices Cynthia Y. Cobbs and James Fitzgerald Smith concurred.

The case revolves around Joe Cook, who wanted to run as a write-in candidate for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago in the Democratic primary election in March.

Cook filed a declaration of intent to run with the Cook County Clerk, but not with the Chicago Election Board.

Justice Nathaniel R. Howse Jr.

The county clerk only administers elections in suburban Cook County, outside of the city limits of Chicago, while the Chicago Board counts ballots cast within the city of Chicago. Both are proper authorities for the Democratic primary election for the commissioner of the Metropolitan Water district, according to the appellate court decision.

When the Board notified Cook it would not count his write-in votes because he did not file a declaration of intent with them, he filed a complaint, arguing he had complied with the requirements to become a write-in candidate and “trigger a primary election in an uncontested election,” according to the appellate court decision.

“The [p]laintiff argues he complied with the requirements of Section 7-5(d) by filing his declaration of intent to become a write-in candidate for the office of Commissioner of the MWRD with the ‘local election official,’ which he states in this instance is the Clerk, because nomination papers for the office of Commissioner of the MWRD are filed with the Clerk,” Howse wrote in the decision. 

Additionally, Cook argued that Section 7-14 “establishes a relationship between County Clerks and boards of election commissioners in which the county clerks notify the boards of election commissioners of candidates who are certified.”

The Chicago Board, however, argued Cook had not complied with the rules because he never filed his declaration of intent with them. The Board cited Section 17-16.1 of the Election Code, which states “‘write-in votes shall be counted only for persons who have filed notarized declarations of intent to be write-in candidates with the proper election authority or authorities not later than 61 days prior to the election.’”

A Cook County judge rejected Cook’s argument, which prompted him to appeal. But the appellate justices found the trial court did not err in its decision. 

"The fact the Clerk 'certif[ies] the names of all candidates whose nomination papers have been filed with such clerk and declare[s] that the names of such candidates for the respective offices shall be placed upon the official ballot for the general primary' does not change the fact the Board is the election authority for elections in the City of Chicago," Howse wrote in the appellate decision.

Additionally, the appellate panel held that Election Code does not require the Clerk to notify the Board that it had received a declaration of intent.

“We find that under Illinois law the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is an election authority for the plaintiff’s election and the board had to be served with the plaintiff’s declaration of intent to become a write-in candidate before the board could lawfully count his write-in votes,” Howse wrote in the decision. “Serving the County Clerk was not sufficient; therefore, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court denying the plaintiff’s complaint.”

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Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago City of Chicago Cook County Clerk Illinois First District Appellate Court Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

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