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People v. Deganutti

May 12, 2004

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
PATRICIA DEGANUTTI, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Nos. 00 CR 23697 & 00 CR 23698. Honorable Thomas R. Sumner Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hall

PUBLISHED

Defendant Patricia Deganutti was charged by indictment with one count of unlawful observation of voting and one count of absentee ballot violation, in connection with the completion and mailing of a voter's absentee ballot cast in the March 21, 2000, primary election. Defendant was also charged in a second indictment for the same two offenses regarding a second voter in the same election. The two cases were consolidated.

Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty on all four counts. After defendant's motion for reconsideration or in the alternative for a new trial was denied, the trial court sentenced defendant to 18 months' probation. She filed her timely notice of appeal on September 11, 2002.

On appeal, defendant contends that: (1) she was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of unlawful observation of voting; (2) she was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of absentee ballot violations; and (3) section 29-9 of the Election Code (Code) (unlawful observation of voting) and section 29-20(4) of the Code (absentee ballots - violations) (10 ILCS 5/29-9, 29-20(4) 2000)) are both unconstitutional. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

The presented testimony revealed the following facts. At the time of the alleged offenses, defendant worked as a precinct captain in precinct 65, in the Town of Cicero, Illinois. It was established that during the months immediately leading up to the March 21, 2000, primary election, defendant twice visited the respective homes of two registered voters living in the town of Cicero.

Rose M. Soderholm testified that in January/February 2000, she was in the hallway of her apartment building when she was approached by defendant and an unidentified male. Soderholm testified that she had not previously met defendant. Defendant introduced herself as the area's precinct captain and asked Soderholm if she was a registered voter, to which Soderholm replied "yes." Defendant also wanted to know if the building's landlord "was around." Defendant went upstairs to speak with the landlord and shortly afterwards returned to talk with Soderholm. This conversation took place in the doorway to Soderholm's apartment.

Soderholm testified that after she responded to defendant that she was interested in voting, defendant handed her an application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming March 21, 2000, primary election. Soderholm signed the application and handed it back to defendant, who took the application with her. Soderholm stated that she had never previously applied to vote by absentee ballot. Evidence was presented that after Soderholm signed her application and handed it over to defendant, some unknown individual later filled in Soderholm's return address on the application and put check marks in certain boxes on the application where it asked the applicant to give the reason why he or she was voting absentee and to indicate the applicant's political affiliation. Soderholm's application read that the reason she was voting absentee was because she expected to be absent from her county of residence on election day and it indicated that she wanted to vote in the Republican primary.

Sometime later, Soderholm received her absentee ballot in the mail. Shortly thereafter, in early March 2000, defendant made an unannounced visit to Soderholm's apartment. Soderholm had not requested the visit. Soderholm and defendant sat on the couch in Soderholm's living room, where defendant inquired as to whether Soderholm had received the absentee ballot. After acknowledging receipt of the absentee ballot, Soderholm retrieved the envelope containing the ballot materials and she and defendant opened the envelope and took out the ballot. Soderholm testified that as she and defendant sat together on the couch, about one foot from each other, she followed defendant's instructions on which numbers to punch on the absentee ballot. Soderholm testified that defendant was "watching" her as she punched out the numbers on the ballot.

Soderholm testified that she did not punch any numbers on the ballot other than the numbers defendant instructed her to punch. Soderholm stated that during this time she never asked defendant for any candidate recommendations regarding the election, never asked for any assistance in completing the ballot, and never told defendant that she did not understand how to fill out the ballot.

After Soderholm finished punching the numbers on the absentee ballot, she and defendant put the ballot in an envelope and sealed the envelope, and Soderholm signed the back of the envelope. Soderholm then handed the sealed envelope to defendant, who took the envelope and left the apartment. Soderholm testified that she never asked defendant to mail the envelope for her.

On cross-examination, Soderholm acknowledged that defendant never bribed or threatened her into filling out the absentee ballot. She also conceded that defendant never told her to keep the execution of her absentee ballot a secret. Soderholm testified that eventually an investigator from the State's Attorney's office showed up at her apartment asking questions regarding her absentee ballot.

Next, Martha A. Martinez testified that in the weeks prior to the March 2000, primary election, defendant and a man she believed was named Chuck Gonzales came to her home. She had never met defendant. Defendant introduced herself as the precinct captain and asked Martinez if she wanted to vote absentee. Martinez responded that she wanted to vote absentee rather than travel to the polls and stand in line to vote since she was nine months pregnant and had gestational diabetes, which required her to take daily insulin. Defendant then gave Martinez an application for an absentee ballot for the upcoming March 21, 2000, primary election. Martinez signed the application and handed it back to defendant, who took the application and left.

Evidence was presented that an unidentified person later filled in Martinez' return address on the application and put check marks in boxes on her application where it asked her to give the reason why she was voting absentee and indicate her political affiliation. Similar to Soderholm's application, Martinez' application read that the reason she was voting absentee was because she expected to be absent from ...


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