JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride took no part in the decision.
At issue in this case is whether a candidate who seeks the office of circuit judge in a judicial subcircuit must be a resident of that subcircuit at the time he or she submits a petition for nomination to the office. By a vote of 2-1, the Will County officers electoral board concluded that residency was not required and that the nominating petition submitted by a nonresident candidate was sufficient to permit the candidate's name to appear on the official ballot for the upcoming primary election. On judicial review, the circuit court of Will County reversed, holding that the name of the nonresident candidate should not appear on the ballot. The appellate court subsequently reached the same conclusion with one justice dissenting. 397 Ill. App. 3d 875. We granted the nonresident candidate's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). For the reasons that follow, we agree with the circuit and appellate courts that the electoral board erred when it denied the objections to the nonresident's candidacy. The judgment of the appellate court, which affirmed the circuit court's judgment, is therefore affirmed.
The pertinent facts are undisputed. Chris Ward, a United States citizen and licensed attorney-at-law of the State of Illinois, filed a petition with the State Board of Elections (see 10 ILCS 5/7--12 (West 2008)) to have his name appear on the ballot for the February 2010, primary election as a candidate for nomination by the Democratic Party for the office of circuit judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit, 4th Judicial Subcircuit. At the time Ward circulated and filed his petition, he was a resident of the 12th Judicial Circuit, but not of the 4th Subcircuit.
Daniel Goodman, a registered voter in Will County, objected to Ward's candidacy pursuant to section 10--8 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/10--8 (West 2008)). See 10 ILCS 5/7--12.1 (West 2008). Goodman is the husband of Carmen Goodman, who was also seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party for the 4th Subcircuit vacancy. In a verified objector's petition he submitted to the Will County officers electoral board, Mr. Goodman asserted that Ward's nominating petitions were insufficient and that Ward's name should not appear on the ballot for the upcoming primary election because Ward did not reside within the boundaries of the 4th Subcircuit and was therefore ineligible for the office to which he sought election.
Two of the three members of the electoral board took the view that candidates for judicial office need not be residents of the political unit from which they seek election at the time they obtain, circulate or file their nominating petitions. Believing that the governing provisions of the Illinois Constitution were "arguably ambiguous and uncertain" and mindful of the precept that ballot access should be favored, the two-member electoral board majority concluded that Ward's nominating papers were sufficient to permit his name to appear on the ballot for the primary election.
One member of the electoral board took a contrary view. That member interpreted the applicable provisions of the Illinois Constitution, various statutory provisions pertaining to the election and retention of judges, and precedent from this court to mean that candidates for election to circuit court subcircuit positions must meet all eligibility requirements for the office, including residency in the subcircuit, at the time they file their nominating papers.
Because a majority of the electoral board believed that Ward's nominating papers complied with the law, Goodman's objection was denied. Goodman promptly filed a petition for judicial review of the board's decision in the circuit court of Will County. See 10 ILCS 5/10--10.1 (West 2008). Following a hearing, the circuit court concluded that the electoral board's decision was "inconsistent with and contrary to the plain language and obvious meaning" of the provisions of the Illinois Constitution governing eligibility for judicial office. It therefore reversed the electoral board's decision and ruled that Ward's name should not appear on the primary ballot.
Ward appealed unsuccessfully. In an opinion filed prior to the election, the appellate court concluded that the electoral board's interpretation of the governing law was incorrect and that candidates for judicial office must meet the eligibility requirements imposed by the Illinois Constitution, including the residency requirement, in order for their names to be placed on a ballot for election to a judicial post. Because Ward was not a resident of the subcircuit in which he was seeking election as a circuit judge, the appellate court held that the electoral board erred in denying Goodman's objection and allowing Ward's name to remain on the ballot. It therefore ordered that Ward's name be "removed from the official ballot as a candidate for the fourth subcircuit of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit for the Democratic Party at the primary election on February 2, 2010." 397 Ill. App. 3d at 879.
The appellate court's decision was not unanimous. One justice dissented. The dissenting justice disagreed with the majority's analysis and believed that residency in the subcircuit was not required at the time Ward submitted his petitions for the primary election. The dissenting justice would have affirmed the electoral board's decision and allowed Ward's name to remain on the ballot. 397 Ill. App. 3d at 879-82 (Wright, J., dissenting).
Ward petitioned for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). While his petition was pending, he moved for expedited consideration of the petition or, in the alternative, for a stay of enforcement of the lower courts' judgments pending consideration of the petition for leave to appeal. Ward's motion was denied, but his petition for leave to appeal was allowed by our court in March of 2010. Following briefing, the cause was set for oral argument at our November 2010 term of court. Goodman subsequently moved to reschedule the oral argument for the January 2011 term of court. Without objection from Ward, Goodman's motion was granted.
During the pendency of this appeal, the election process went forward. The February 2010 primary election was conducted as scheduled. As ordered by the appellate court, Ward's name did not appear on the ballot. His opponent, Carmen Goodman, was left unopposed and won the nomination of the Democratic Party. She subsequently ran against a Republican candidate named Wayne Kwiat in the ...