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Expert: Ballot objections may benefit voters

by Randy Leonard
Feb 10, 2011

Some voters say the democratic process is tainted when courts meddle in the electoral process, like when deciding Rahm Emanuel’s residency status last month.

The money, the political ties, the lingering questions about backroom deals – both supporters and opponents of Emanuel described his court ordeal as dirty Chicago politics. But according to one election expert, voters are actually better off because of candidacy challenges.

The objection process weeds out people who are looking for free advertising or are trying to disrupt the electoral procedure, said Michael Hamblet, a lawyer who has served on the city and state elections boards.

“It’s kind of an ordeal to prove that you are a real candidate,” he said. It is not perfect, but there are not really any alternatives to ensuring legitimate candidates end up on the ballot, Hamblet said.

It is not always a case that those with money succeed. While hiring a specialized election attorney could cost as much as $40,000, candidates can defend their spot on the ballot with little expense by representing themselves or getting help from volunteer experts, Hamblet said.

The record number of 425 objections this election does not shock Hamblet, who said there are always a lot of challenges.

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

While this year’s rise could be partly due to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s departure and the high number of alderman positions turning over, another reason for the increase is the electronic age, he said.

Before computers, reviewing files and petition signatures by hand took a lot of time. Digital records make for easier searching and more objections, he said.

Because of the stress that came with sorting out the 425 objections for the Feb. 22 ballot, the Board of Elections is considering what changes the legislature could make for the next election, according to board spokesman Jim Allen. 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 may recommend changing the dates for candidates to first file their nominating petitions or for when early voting begins, Allen said.
Hamblet said it would be a bad idea to move the initial filing date.

“If you give them more time, the courts are going to take it,” he said.
But he agreed that moving early voting back could help with taking care of objections.

Another fix could be connecting electronic voting machines to a central hub, which would make it easier to reprogram if there were a ballot change during early voting, Hamblet said.

Of the 425 cases, the board and courts have resolved the all but four, which are now at the state appellate court level, Allen said Thursday. Candidates are trying to get back on the ballot in the 3rd and 45th wards and objectors are looking to remove candidates in the 27th and 28th wards.