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Taylor v. County of St. Clair

OPINION FILED MAY 29, 1974.

PHILLIP R. TAYLOR, APPELLANT,

v.

THE COUNTY OF ST. CLAIR ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. James W. Gray, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE KLUCZYNSKI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Phillip R. Taylor, filed an action in the circuit court of St. Clair County against the county, its clerk and the election commissioners of the city of East St. Louis, Illinois. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief to set aside the results of a county-wide referendum which overwhelmingly approved the proposition that the chairman of the St. Clair County Board would be selected by general election. Plaintiff further sought to prevent any election designed to nominate or elect candidates for this office. During the circuit court proceedings several county residents were allowed to intervene in support of the validity of the referendum. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 110, par. 26.1.) The circuit court denied the relief requested in plaintiff's amended complaint. We permitted a direct appeal to be taken to this court (50 Ill.2d R. 302(b)) and set an expedited briefing schedule. Plaintiff raises numerous considerations, hereinafter enumerated, in support of his position that pertain to this State's 1970 Constitution.

Pursuant to the United States Supreme Court decision in Avery v. Midland County, Texas, 390 U.S. 474, 20 L.Ed.2d 45, 88 S.Ct. 1114, the legislature enacted the County Board Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 34, par. 831 et seq.) to expedite reapportionment in compliance with the "one man, one vote" concept enunciated in Avery. (Bridgewater v. Hotz, 51 Ill.2d 103, 110-11.) Section 7 of the County Board Act of 1969 provided:

"Any county board when providing for the reapportionment of its county under this Act may provide that the chairman of the county board shall be elected by the voters of the county rather than by the members of the board. In that event, provision shall be made for the election throughout the county of the chairman of the county board, but no person may be elected to serve as such chairman who has not been elected as a county board member to serve during the same period as the term of office as chairman of the county board to which he seeks election. Whether the chairman of the county board is elected by the voters of the county or by the members of the board, he shall be elected to a 2 year term, to commence on the first Monday in May in 1972 and each 2 years thereafter." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 34, par. 837, effective October 2, 1969.

The St. Clair County Board consists of 29 members. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 34, par. 832.) The chairman, who was also a board member, was traditionally chosen by the other members. At the time of reapportionment the county board did not provide that its chairman was to be elected for a two-year term by general election as permitted by section 7. Rather the former selection method was retained whereby the chairman was designated by the county board for the same period.

In March, 1972, a referendum on the proposition of whether to adopt the County Executive Act (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1972 Supp., ch. 34, par. 701 et seq.) was presented to the St. Clair County voters. This proposition would have permitted the general election of the county's chief executive officer for a four-year term (par. 707) but would have prohibited his election as a member of the county board (par. 708). The proposition was defeated.

In July, 1972, a resolution was introduced before the St. Clair County Board. It provided "Shall the Chairman of the County Board of St. Clair County be elected by the voters at large?" The county board did not adopt this resolution.

In the November, 1972, election the aforesaid proposition was submitted to the referendum approval of the voters and was adopted. We have been informed this proposition was placed on the ballot pursuant to section 28-4 of the Election Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 46, par. 28-4), which permits initiation of a referendum by voter petition.

While the record does not definitely indicate the term of county board chairman to be elected pursuant to the county-wide referendum now at issue, the briefs of the respective parties and representations made in oral argument of this cause would seem to establish that the term is two years.

A March, 1974, primary election was held to determine the candidates to run for chairman of the county board. At the forthcoming election this year 16 positions on the county board are also to be filled. The remaining 13 members of the board are not required to seek election at this time.

Plaintiff initially contends that the election of a chairman of the county board is violative of section 3 of article III of the 1970 Constitution, which requires that "All elections shall be free and equal." Plaintiff reasons that section 7 of the County Board Act requires that the chairman's position be filled by a board member. Since only 16 county districts are to elect a board member in 1974, he maintains that in the remaining 13 districts only the incumbent board member may seek election as chairman. He argues that all the voters of these 13 districts have therefore been deprived of the opportunity to file nominating petitions as possible candidates for chairman. Defendants do not dispute the factual basis of plaintiff's argument. Rather they are unable to discern any infirmity in this procedure.

Section 9 of the County Board Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 34, par. 839) established that a certain number of board members were to be initially elected for two-year terms while the remainder were elected to a four-year period. All successors would thereafter be elected for a four-year term. Any qualified person might therefore seek election to the county chairmanship in the 16 districts in which board members are to be elected in 1974, and only incumbent board members in the remaining 13 districts might choose to seek this position. In 1976 the opposite result would occur, thereby permitting the 16 incumbent board members to seek the position of county board chairman without opposition from any otherwise qualified individuals in their respective districts. Under this County Board Act, had the St. Clair County Board opted to have its chairman designated by general election as alternatively permitted by section 7, the same circumstances which give rise to plaintiff's complaint would have occurred. Moreover, we further note that during a four-year period all persons qualified to seek election as board members might also choose to run for chairman of the county board.

In Bridgewater v. Hotz, 51 Ill.2d 103, we had occasion to construe section 3 of article III of the 1970 Constitution in the context relating to the argument advanced by plaintiff. It was stated at page 112, "an election is free which gives every qualified voter the right to cast his vote without restraint [citation], and equal `when the vote of each voter is equal in its influence upon the result to the vote of every other elector — where each ballot is as effective as every other ballot.'" We do not find that the circumstances of this case transcend the constitutional mandate relating to free and equal elections.

Plaintiff raises various arguments relative to the local government article of the 1970 Constitution. The sections pertinent to ...


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