Cook County assessor candidate Andrea Raila is back on the ballot, and her attorney on Wednesday said he may demand a special election in the hotly contested race to try to unseat embattled incumbent Joe Berrios.
City election officials say any early votes cast for Raila will be counted.
But the roller-coaster case might not be over. The voters who filed the original objection could still appeal to the state Supreme Court. And Raila’s lawyer is still worried about damage already done.
Raila’s attorney Frank Avila, Jr. says he is demanding an apology from everyone from the Cook County Clerk’s office to one of Raila’s opponents, Fritz Kaegi. Avila, too said he wants to ensure all votes already cast for Raila counted — or he’ll demand a special election.
“I demand an apology from Fritz Kaegi. I demand an apology from the clerk’s office. I demand an apology from the objectors,” Avila said. “Justice has finally been done. This makes me believe in democracy again.”
Avila said he wants Raila’s early votes back and “may ask” for a special election. “They have to be counted,” he said adding, “if not, we want to stop the election and have another election.”
A Cook County judge last month upheld a county electoral board’s earlier order to remove Raila’s name from the ballot for the Democratic nomination for Cook County assessor based on a pattern of fraud in her nominating petitions.
But the judge ruled it was too late to physically change the ballots to exclude her name. That essentially meant voters could still vote for her, but the votes would not be counted.
“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.
But on Wednesday, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the lower court ruling, meaning not only does Raila stay on the ballot, but votes cast for her will count.
“While there was some evidence that certain notaries, including Raila herself, notarized sheets without the circulator present, that evidence simply does not rise to level of ‘clear and convincing’ evidence of a pattern of fraud, and is certainly not sufficient evidence to warrant striking each and ever sheet notarized by ten of the notaries,” the appellate court said in its ruling.
But voters have already been to the polls for early voting, and James Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said all those votes will be counted.
Voters who had already voted received printed notices in their polling places that any votes for Raila wouldn’t have counted. Election officials also had placed legal notices in newspapers.
Allen said the board of elections has already printed “several hundred thousand notices” including 22-x-35-inch signs for every precinct polling places, precinct notices for instruction for judges, and notices handed to every voter.
“It’s going to be difficult to unring this bell,” Allen said.
A spokesman for Cook County Clerk David Orr said election officials would immediately cease handing out notices to early voters that informed them votes for Raila would not be counted.
The appeals court ruling will leave three names on the Democratic ballot for assessor: incumbent Berrios, Oak Park financial analyst Kaegi and Raila — and require the votes to be counted.
Kaegi’s campaign blasted the latest ruling.
“Andrea Raila personally engaged in an egregious pattern of ballot petition signature fraud,” campaign manager Rebecca Reynolds said in statement. “How you run for office is a reflection of how you will act in office. The people of Cook County deserve an Assessor that acts ethically and transparently. Reversing the Circuit Court’s decision just six days before Election Day sets a dangerous precedent that will encourage future campaigns to engage in fraud with no fear of repercussion.”
The crowded field is considered an advantage to Berrios, because it could split the opposition vote. Berrios has been under fire for overseeing a property tax assessment system that has been found to be discriminatory against lower income minority homeowners.
Election officials say the up-and-down situation is not unprecedented in Cook County, but has never taken place in such a high profile election.
Earlier in February, 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 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.
Contributing: Mark Brown