The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice O'mara Frossard
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable Marsha Hayes, Judge Presiding.
Petitioners William Lockhart and Ralph Bellamy appeal the trial court's judgment affirming the decision of the Cook County Officers Electoral Board (Electoral Board) finding that the nomination papers of respondent Steven Burris, a candidate for the office of Member of the Cook County Board of Review (Board of Review), were valid and contained a sufficient number of signatures to warrant inclusion of his name on the ballot for the March 19, 2002 general primary election. Petitioners contend on appeal that Burris' name must be removed from the ballot because the Electoral Board erroneously applied section 7-10(c) of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7-10(c) (West 2000)) to determine the minimum number of signatures required and thus improperly concluded that Burris' nomination papers contained a sufficient number of signatures.
Burris filed nomination papers with the Cook County Clerk (Clerk) to be a Democratic candidate in the March 19, 2002 general primary election for the office of Member of the Board of Review, Third Board of Review Member District. Petitioners filed a petition objecting to those nomination papers, alleging that the required number of valid signatures was 7,120, and that Burris' papers contained fewer than 7,120 valid signatures. Burris filed a motion to strike and dismiss the petition, alleging that pursuant to section 7-10(c) of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7-10(c) (West 2000)), the required number of valid signatures was one-third of 7,120 or 2,374.
On February 4, 2002, the Electoral Board conducted a hearing on Burris' motion. Burris introduced a copy of the Clerk's 2002 Election Calendar, which lists various county offices and the number of signatures that candidates for those offices must obtain in order to have their names placed on the ballot. The Election Calendar states that Democratic candidates for the countywide offices of County Clerk, Treasurer, Sheriff, Assessor, and President-County Board, must obtain 7,120 signatures. However, unlike the signature requirement of 7,120 listed next to the other countywide offices, the 7,120 figure next to the Board of Review is followed by an asterisk indicating:
"Neither the Revenue Act nor the Election Code contains a specific method for calculating a minimum signature requirement for Board of Review, and no method of calculating the signature requirement has been subjected to judicial scrutiny. Prospective candidates are advised to consult legal counsel."
The Electoral Board noted that the registration records summary indicated that Burris had approximately 4,769 valid signatures and, on its own motion, adopted this figure as the number of valid signatures obtained by Burris. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Daniel Madden, the Clerk's representative on the Electoral Board, found that the final sentence of section 7-10(c) of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7-10 (West 2000)) provided the appropriate formula for determining the number of signatures that Burris was required to obtain. In applying this formula, Madden divided 7,120, the number of required signatures for those seeking countywide offices in the 2002 Democratic primary, by 3, the number of Board of Review districts in Cook County, to find that Burris was required to obtain 2,374 signatures. In support of this finding, Madden noted that there is a "strong public policy" in the Election Code in favor of having smaller signature requirements for offices that run within a district of a larger unit than for offices which run in the entire unit. Madden further noted that the legislation creating the three-member district Board of Review did not address this policy, and that nothing in the statutes indicated that in terms of signature requirements a Board of Review candidate who runs in a district one-third the size of the county should be treated as if he were running for a countywide position such as Assessor, Sheriff, or County Clerk. Madden additionally stated that due to the need for expedition, the Electoral Board's written decision would not recite its analysis in full, but would instead rely upon the analysis in the hearing transcript.
Petitioners filed a petition for judicial review of the Electoral Board's decision in the circuit court pursuant to section 10-10.1 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/10-10.1 (West 2000)). Following a hearing on the petition, the trial court affirmed the Electoral Board's decision to keep Burris' name on the ballot.
Petitioners contend on appeal that the trial court erred by finding that the Electoral Board properly applied section 7-10(c) of the Election Code to determine the number of signatures Burris was required to obtain in order to have his name placed on the ballot as a candidate for the Board of Review. Initially, we note that we are required to review the Electoral Board's decision rather than the trial court's decision. Calabrese v. Chicago Park District, 294 Ill. App. 3d 1055, 1065 (1998). Petitioners argue that the Electoral Board failed to set forth in writing findings in support of its decision as required by section 10-10 of the Election Code. 10 ILCS 5/10-10 (West 2000)). We note, however, that the record contains a four page written decision which references the hearing record containing the findings made by the Electoral Board at the conclusion of the hearing. We reject petitioner's argument that the decision of the Electoral Board was deficient for failure to articulate written findings. Based on the totality of the circumstances, including the complete record, the findings of the Electoral Board were sufficient for purposes of our review.
The issue before us turns on the interpretation of a statute, therefore it is a question of law subject to de novo review. Zapolsky v. Cook County Officers Electorial Board, 296 Ill. App. 3d 731, 733 (1998). Subsections (a) through (k) of section 7-10 of the Election Code list various categories of elective offices as well as specific offices and set forth the requisite number of signatures or method for determining that number which candidates running for those offices must obtain on their petitions for nomination. 10 ILCS 5/7-10(a)-(k) (West 2000). Section 7-10(c) addresses the number of signatures which candidates for county offices must obtain on their petitions for nominations. Section 7-10(c) provides in pertinent part as follows:
"Such petitions for nominations shall be signed:
(c) If for a county office (including county board member and chairman of the county board where elected from the county at large), by at least .5% of the qualified electors of his party cast at the last preceding general election in ...