Just when you might have thought you’d seen everything in an Illinois election comes this:
A Cook County judge on Tuesday evening upheld a county electoral board’s decision to remove candidate Andrea Raila from the ballot for the Democratic nomination for Cook County assessor based on a pattern of fraud in her nominating petitions.
But her name will appear on the March 20 primary ballot anyway, and the judge is OK with that.
“It’s not a perfect world,” Circuit Judge Robert W. Bertucci said after election officials argued it’s too late to physically remove Raila’s name from printed ballots or electronic touchscreen voting machines.
Instead, voters will receive printed notices in their polling places that any votes for Raila will not be counted. Election officials also said they will place legal notices in newspapers. They even offered to pay for broadcast commercials to spread the word.
The ruling will leave three names on the Democratic ballot for assessor: incumbent Joe Berrios, Oak Park financial analyst Fritz Kaegi and Raila.
Although votes for Raila will not be counted, Kaegi lawyer Andrew Finko argued some voters will still cast their ballots for her if they see her name, siphoning potential votes from his candidate to the benefit of Berrios.
Election officials say the situation is not unprecedented in Cook County, but has never taken place in such a high profile election.
Raila’s lawyer, Frank Avila Jr., said he will appeal.
Earlier this month, the Cook County Officers Electoral Board ordered Raila off the ballot based on a hearing examiner’s finding of a pattern of fraud in her nominating petitions.
Then last week, election officials in the county clerk’s office and Chicago Board of Election Commissioners announced they would put her name on the ballot anyway, reasoning that it would be better than the alternative of having to restore her to the ballot later if the court overturned the board’s ruling. They then proceeded with printing the ballots.
Now, they say that decision can’t be reversed.
Bertucci seemed to be caught off guard by the election officials’ position and pushed back, saying they had told him previously that electronic voting machines could be reprogrammed.
Finko argued election officials just didn’t want to undertake the expense and maintained that “at a minimum” the electronic voting machines should be reprogrammed to drop Raila.
“This is America. Nothing is impossible here,” he told the judge.
But Bertucci acquiesced to the election officials when they told him election tabulating equipment used in the precincts would not work properly if Raila’s name was removed from the electronic ballots but left on the paper ballots. Both systems are used in polling places, then the voting results merged.
A similar situation is unfolding in the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Cook County Clerk David Orr, where lawyer Jan Kowalski McDonald filed petitions to run against Karen Yarbrough, who currently holds the office of county recorder.
McDonald also was ruled off the ballot by the electoral board based on faulty election petitions, but the county clerk’s office decided to leave her name on because she filed a court challenge.
McDonald’s case is not scheduled to be heard in court until March 7.
The big difference is that McDonald is considered an extreme long shot with little chance of defeating Yarbrough, while long shot Raila could prove a difference-maker in the assessor’s race if she takes votes away from Kaegi in what is expected to be a close race between him and Berrios.
Election officials cited two similar cases.
In 2011, Carmelita Earls, a candidate for 28th Ward alderman, was ruled off the ballot by the Illinois Appellate Court just days before the election, too late to physically remove it. Votes for Earls were not counted.
Orr’s office pointed to a 2015 contest for trustee of South Suburban Community College District 510, where a candidate was ruled off the ballot by a local electoral board. In that instance, the clerk’s office chose to give notices to voters that votes for that candidate wouldn’t be counted. Ultimately, the Appellate Court reinstated the candidate.