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May 5, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 93-MR-88. Honorable S. Keith Lewis, Judge, Presiding.

Inglis, Bowman, Quetsch

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Inglis

PRESIDING JUSTICE INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:

Petitioner, Gloria Reyes (the candidate), appeals the order of the circuit court of Du Page County, denying her petition for the judicial review of the actions of the respondent, Bloomingdale Township Electoral Board (the Board). On February 8, 1993, the candidate petitioned for nomination as an independent candidate for the office of Township Supervisor on the ballot of the regular election to be held on April 20, 1993. On February 12, 1993, respondent Phyllis Stapinski (the objector) filed an objection to the candidate's nominating papers.

The Board conducted a hearing on the objection on February 20, 1993. During this hearing, the Board allowed the objector to amend her objection after the candidate had rested her case. After the close of the evidence, the Board examined the signature cards of the registered voters and consulted with counsel. The Board reconvened on February 22, 1993, and sua sponte reopened the proofs as to 12 signatures. After examining the additional signatures, the Board rendered its decision, finding invalid 206 of the 886 signatures presented by the candidate. Because the number of valid signatures required for placement on the ballot was 685, the Board denied the candidate a place on the ballot for lack of five signatures.

The candidate petitioned for judicial review on March 2, 1993. She initially pointed out a mathematical error, as the number of signatures removed did not coincide with the record of the proceedings. The objector conceded this point as to two signatures, leaving the petition three signatures short of ballot eligibility. The trial court heard the arguments on the petition for review on March 22, 1993. The court denied the petition, finding without elaboration that the ruling of the Board was "consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence." This timely appeal followed.

Initially, we address the respondents' motion to dismiss this appeal on the ground of mootness. We ordered this motion to be taken with the case and briefed by the parties. A case is moot where no actual controversy exists or where it has become impossible for a court to grant effective relief. Stephens v. Education Officers Electoral Board, Community College District No. 504 (1992), 236 Ill. App. 3d 159, 161, 177 Ill. Dec. 572, 603 N.E.2d 642.

The Board contends that the occurrence of the election on April 20, 1993, renders this case moot, because the court can no longer grant effective relief. The candidate argues that the case should be excepted from the mootness doctrine, because the issues involved are capable of repetition and evasive of review. She also argues that because the court can order a special election, the case is not moot.

A court may resolve an otherwise moot issue if the issue involves a substantial public interest. (Bonaguro v. County Officers Electoral Board (March 18, 1994), No. 74907, slip op. at 2.) This public interest exception requires a clear showing that (1) the question is public in nature; (2) an authoritative determination is desirable for the guidance of public officers; and (3) the question will likely recur. Bonaguro, No. 74907, slip op. at 2; In re A Minor (1989), 127 Ill. 2d 247, 257, 130 Ill. Dec. 225, 537 N.E.2d 292.

The present case meets this test. First, ballot access is a substantial right and not lightly to be denied. ( Welch v. Johnson (1992), 147 Ill. 2d 40, 56, 167 Ill. Dec. 989, 588 N.E.2d 1119.) Second, electoral boards are creatures of statute (Election Code) (10 ILCS 5/1-1 et seq. (West 1992)), endowed with no power beyond what the Election Code (the Code) enumerates. ( Kozel v. State Board of Elections (1988), 126 Ill. 2d 58, 68, 127 Ill. Dec. 714, 533 N.E.2d 796; Maske v. Kane County Officers Electoral Board (1992), 234 Ill. App. 3d 508, 510, 175 Ill. Dec. 582, 600 N.E.2d 513.) Case law interpreting the Code with respect to the issues presented here is sparse, and election boards dispose of similar issues inconsistently. (See Ross v. Philip (Circuit Court Du Page County), No. 92-MR-36; Objection to Petition of Oury (Du Page County Officers Electoral Board), March 25, 1991, unnumbered.) Thus, an authoritative determination is desirable.

Finally, this inconsistency among electoral boards, coupled with the frequency of objections to nominating petitions, demonstrates that these issues are capable of repetition. We therefore deny respondents' motion to dismiss the appeal and address the merits under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine.

The candidate contends that the Board erred in (1) striking 38 signatures because the notary date preceded the signature dates; (2) striking 23 signatures because they "looked funny"; and (3) allowing the objector to amend her objection to add new objectionable signatures. Judicial review of the decision of an electoral board is intended to remedy arbitrary or unsupported decisions. ( Keating v. Iozzo (1987), 155 Ill. App. 3d 774, 776, 108 Ill. Dec. 342, 508 N.E.2d 503.) Decisions as to questions of fact will not be disturbed if they are consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence. Keating, 155 Ill. App. 3d at 776.

The review of a question of law, however, is independent and not deferential. ( Stephens, 236 Ill. App. 3d at 161.) The trial court found the Board's decision on these objections to be consistent with the manifest weight of the evidence. These issues, however, present questions of law, not fact, and should have been reviewed de novo.

The candidate first argues that because the Code does not require each elector's signature to be dated, the fact that 38 signatures on several sheets bore dates later than the dates of the notary signatures bears no relevance to their validity. Section 10-4 of the Code requires each circulator of a nominating petition to certify before a notary public that the signatures on the sheets of the petition she circulated were genuine and were signed in her presence by duly registered voters of the appropriate political subdivision. (10 ILCS 5/10-4 (West 1992).) This section also ...

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