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Emanuel’s just one among record number of ballot challenges

by Randy Leonard
Feb 01, 2011

Rahm Emanuel’s on again, off again relationship with the ballot may have gotten all the attention in recent weeks, but his candidacy wasn’t the only one being questioned.

Officials say 425 objections to candidacies were filed this election, a record.

Voters across the political spectrum may cry foul when courts wade into the democratic process, but as distasteful as the challenge season might seem, one election expert said the process is needed to weed out those simply looking for publicity or who are otherwise filing under false pretenses.

“It’s kind of an ordeal to prove that you are a real candidate,” said Michael Hamblet, a former city and state elections board member.

Costs to successfully defend a challenge can vary widely, depending on the issue at hand – such as residency claims or the validity of thousands of petition signatures – and how far a case goes through the court system, Hamblet said.

Hiring an attorney who specializes in election law for a challenge that makes its way through the court system can cost a candidate or campaign as much as $40,000. On the other hand, candidates might represent themselves or have volunteer support at the election board level, incurring minimal expenses, he said.

The 425 challenges lodged this election were almost double what they have been, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said.
“We had a record number of objections,” Allen said.

That doesn’t shock Hamblet, who said there are always a lot of challenges.

“In Chicago it is part of the game,” he said. “Everyone does it.”

The rise in challenges this year, he said, could be related to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s departure and the number of aldermanic positions turning over.

“There are more open slots,” he said.

But he mainly credited the increase to the electronic age: Digital records facilitate searching, making challenges easier, he said.

Before computers, comparing signatures on voter registration cards with petitions was an arduous task.

One of the biggest issues stemming from the challenges is that because of early voting, the electronic machines have to be individually reprogrammed in the event of a ballot change, he said. A centrally connected system would facilitate last-minute changes, Hamblet said.

One solution would be for the legislature to adjust the calendar for future elections.

“They may have to think about how early they want the early voting,” he said.
Allen agreed.

But Hamblet added that he doubted adding more time between the initial filing date and Election Day would help resolve the volume of legal complaints.

“If you give them more time, the courts are going to take it,” he said.

But Allen at the board of elections said opening the calendar further could help.

With cases multiplying the number of hearings, subpoenas and record-checking, “that’s a lot to get resolved,” he said. “This was a pretty compact and stressful effort.”

The board and courts have resolved the vast majority of the 425 cases, though aldermanic candidates are still contested in six wards, Allen said.

Ousted candidates are trying to get back on the ballot in the 13th, 16th, 45th and 46th wards, and challengers are still seeking to remove candidates in the 12th and 43rd wards, he said. Allen warned that residents can’t recast early votes even if the ballot changes. “There are no do-overs,” he said.
He hoped for some resolution by Friday.

Because of the forecasted blizzard, polling places in the 50 wards will be closed and early voting will be available only at the election board office at 69 W. Washington St.