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11/20/97 MICHAEL RICHARDSON v. ROCK ISLAND COUNTY

November 20, 1997

MICHAEL RICHARDSON, APPELLEE,
v.
THE ROCK ISLAND COUNTY OFFICERS ELECTORAL BOARD ET AL. (SUSAN CARPENTIER ET AL., APPELLANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court, Rock Island County. CASE NUMBERS: AC3-96-0902, TR96MR195. TRIAL JUDGE: Hon. Martin E. Conway, Jr.

The Honorable Justice Heiple delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Heiple

The Honorable Justice HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

The dispute in this constitutional law case centered on the number of signatures required to place a referendum on the ballot to dissolve a township. The Illinois Constitution provides that townships may be dissolved, "when approved by a referendum in the total area in which township officers are elected." Ill. Const. 1970, art. VII, ยง 5. The Constitution, however, has left it to the General Assembly to prescribe by statute the procedure for determining the validity and sufficiency of a petition to initiate a referendum. Specifically on the issue of signatures, the Township Code, at the time the petitions were circulated, provided:

"Upon the petition of at least 10% of the legal voters of any county, as determined on the date the petition is filed, that has adopted township organization, the county board shall certify and cause to be submitted to the voters of the county, at the next general election, the question of the continuance of township organization." (Emphasis added.) 60 ILCS 1/25-5 (West 1996).

The circuit court of Rock Island County held that this provision of the Township Code was unconstitutionally vague and uncertain, because a petitioner could not ascertain the number of signatures required prior to filing since the minimum number of signatures was "determined on the date the petition is filed," and thus created a moving target.

This case is before this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a)(1), which authorizes direct appeals to this court from final judgments of the circuit court in cases where a state statute is held invalid. 134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a)(1). The parties asked us to decide whether the circuit court erred in holding that (1) the signature requirement in the Township Code was unconstitutionally vague and (2) the prior law therefore controlled the disposition of the case. For the reasons that follow, we dismiss the appeal.

I

Michael Richardson filed a petition to add a referendum to the November 5, 1996, election ballot which would have allowed the general population to vote on whether township government should be dissolved in Rock Island County. Richardson had collected 9,913 signatures in support of his petition. Susan Carpentier and six other individuals filed an objection to the petition, challenging 2,484 of the signatures. After a hearing, the Rock Island County Officers Electoral Board (Board) concluded that the Township Code required a petitioner to collect 9,023 signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. The Board sustained objections to 1,445 signatures in Richardson's petition and denied Richardson's petition-with 8,468 valid signatures-because of an insufficient number of signatures.

Richardson filed a petition for judicial review. After a hearing, the circuit court held that the language of the Township Code (60 ILCS 1/25-5 (West 1996)) which fixed the number of required signatures to 10% of the registered voters as of the day the petition is filed was unconstitutionally vague. In the absence of a valid Township Code provision, the circuit court applied the following provision from the Election Code:

"Whenever this Code or another Statute requires that a nominating petition or a petition proposing a public question shall be signed by a specified percentage of the registered voters *** the total number of voters to which the percentage is applied shall be the number of voters who are registered *** on the date registration closed before the regular election next preceding the last day on which such petition may be filed in accordance with the general election law." 10 ILCS 5/3-1.3 (West 1996).

Under this formula, 9,020 signatures were required; the petition contained only 8,468 valid signatures, and accordingly the circuit court confirmed the Board's decision.

Richardson filed a motion for reconsideration and argued that the previous version of section 25-5 of the Township Code should be applied rather than the Election Code. The circuit court agreed and set aside the Board's decision. Under the earlier version of the Township Code, the number of signatures required to place a referendum on the ballot was 10% of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. Under this formula, only 7,373 signatures were required. The circuit court ordered that the referendum be placed on the ballot; Carpentier and the Board filed a notice of appeal. The appellate court stayed the circuit court's order and transferred the cause to this court under Supreme Court Rule 365, which permits the transfer of cases between the supreme court and the appellate court when a case is appealed to the wrong court. 155 Ill. 2d R. 365. The case is properly before this court on a direct appeal from ...


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