Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 96--MR--196. Honorable Jack Hoogasian, Judge, Presiding.
Rehearing Denied July 24, 1997. Released for Publication July 24, 1997. As Modified on Denial of Rehearing July 24, 1997. Released for Publication August 29, 1997.
The Honorable Justice Inglis delivered the opinion of the court. Geiger, P.j., and McLAREN, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Inglis
MODIFIED UPON DENIAL OF REHEARING
The Honorable Justice INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:
Petitioner, Robert G. Anderson, appeals the order of the circuit court which affirmed the decision of respondent McHenry Township Electoral Board (Electoral Board) granting respondent John C. Heidler's objections to petitioner's attempt to place a referendum on the ballot for the November 1996 general election.
Petitioner submitted petitions to dissolve respondent McHenry Township on August 19, 1996. On August 22, 1996, Heidler filed objections to these petitions, essentially alleging that (1) there was no certificate of the principal proponent of the petitions; (2) the circulators' statements were false and in violation of Illinois law; (3) the petitions did not contain the requisite number of signatures; and (4) the dissolution of McHenry Township would harm the residents because there was no statutory mechanism to wind up the affairs of the township.
Respondents Albert Adams, Thomas Birmingham, and Bruce Novak, all of whom were McHenry Township officials, composed the Electoral Board. The Electoral Board held a hearing on the petitions and objections on August 26, 1996. Petitioner attended the meeting, stated that the Electoral Board did not have jurisdiction, and declined to further participate in the hearing. After petitioner left the hearing, Heidler testified before the Electoral Board. The Electoral Board adjourned the meeting, traveled to respondent McHenry County Clerk's Office, and checked voting cards in order to verify that Heidler's objections to the signatures were valid. Following this, the Electoral Board reconvened the hearing and granted all of Heidler's objections, except the one claiming that the township residents would be harmed by the dissolution.
On September 5, 1996, petitioner filed a petition for judicial review of the Electoral Board's decision and for a writ of mandamus to place the referendum on the November 1996 ballot. The trial court affirmed the Electoral Board's decision and denied the writ of mandamus on October 22, 1996. Petitioner filed his notice of appeal on October 24, 1996, and filed a motion to place the case on an accelerated docket, which we denied on October 25, 1996.
Petitioner contends on appeal that (1) he was deprived of due process because of the personal pecuniary biases of the members of the Electoral Board; (2) the Electoral Board illegally sampled the unregistered voter cards; and (3) the Electoral Board's conclusions were arbitrary and unsupported by the record.
First, we note that "judicial review of the decision of an electoral board is intended to remedy arbitrary or unsupported decisions." Reyes v. Bloomingdale Township Electoral Board, 265 Ill. App. 3d 69, 72, 203 Ill. Dec. 806, 640 N.E.2d 956 (1994). Questions of law are reviewed de novo, but questions of fact are reviewed deferentially and factual determinations will be disturbed only if they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Reyes, 265 Ill. App. 3d at 72.
Next, respondents assert that this appeal is moot due to the fact that the November 1996 election has passed without petitioner's question making it onto the ballot. We disagree. This matter clearly falls under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine, in that it presents an important public issue evasive of review and capable of repetition, which, because of the disparate resolutions by electoral boards of similar issues, requires authoritative guidance. See Reyes, 265 Ill. App. 3d at 71-72.
Next, we turn to petitioner's contention that he was denied due process at the hearing on the objections to his petition. Petitioner argues that the members of the Electoral Board had a direct, pecuniary interest in the outcome of the hearing. Because of this interest, petitioner contends that an "impartial tribunal" did not consider his petition. Sindermann v. Civil Service Comm'n, 275 Ill. App. 3d 917, 923, 212 Ill. Dec. 346, 657 N.E.2d 41 (1995). We agree.
The concept of due process applies to administrative hearings, and the parties are guaranteed the right to a fair and impartial tribunal. Sindermann, 275 Ill. App. 3d at 923. "A hearing wherein the adjudicator has a substantial pecuniary interest in the proceedings has been held to be fundamentally unfair and violative of due process." Ryan v. Landek, 159 Ill. App. 3d 10, 12, 111 Ill. Dec. 97, 512 N.E.2d 1 (1987), ...