Eric W. Evans and Dawn O'Leary, of Evans Blasi, of Granite City, Burton S. Odelson, of Odelson & Sterk, of Evergreen Park, and Michael J. Kasper and James P. Nally, both of Chicago, for appellant.
Garrett P. Hoerner, of Becker, Hoerner, Thompson & Ysursa, P.C., of Belleville, for appellees.
JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] The question presented by this appeal is whether a candidate for municipal office is entitled to have his or her name placed on the ballot if the governing election board has properly calculated and announced the minimum number of valid signatures required by statute to support the candidate's nominating petition, but the candidate's petition falls short of that legally-mandated threshold. The election board in this case determined that Illinois law requires only substantial compliance with the numerical signature requirement and that the candidate whose eligibility is being challenged here had come close enough to the minimum requirement to permit his name to be placed before the voters. On judicial review of the board's decision, the circuit and appellate courts affirmed. 2015 IL App. (5th) 150028, 389 Ill.Dec. 755, 27 N.E.3d 247. We granted leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015). For the reasons that follow, we reverse the decision of the board and remand to the circuit court with directions.
[¶3] Alvin L. Parks, Jr., incumbent mayor of the city of East St. Louis, is seeking reelection in the April 7, 2015, municipal election. City officials in East St. Louis run for office on a nonpartisan basis, and the first step in Mayor Parks' reelection effort was to file nomination petitions to be included on the ballot for the February 24, 2015, consolidated primary.
[¶4] By law, Mayor Parks' petitions were subject to the same rules set forth in section 10-3 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/10-3 (West 2012)) governing petitions filed by independent candidates. See 10 ILCS 5/10-3.1 (West 2012). Section 10-3 of the Election Code requires that such petitions be signed by a minimum number of qualified voters of the relevant political subdivision. A formula is specified for determining that number. 10 ILCS 5/10-3 (West 2012). Under that formula, nomination petitions for mayoral candidates in the upcoming East St. Louis election were required to have a minimum of 136 valid signatures. That figure was correctly calculated by election authorities and properly announced and publicized.
[¶5] Mayor Parks filed his nomination petitions with the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners (Election Board), the governing election authority, in the time specified by law. His petitions contained a total of 171 signatures, a figure which appeared to give him 35 more than the minimum required. Shortly thereafter, however, Emeka Jackson-Hicks, who is also a candidate for mayor, filed an objection to Parks' nomination papers pursuant to section 10-8 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/10-8 (West 2012)). Her objection challenged the validity of some of the signatures and contended that Parks had not, in fact, submitted sufficient valid signatures to permit his name to appear on the ballot.
[¶6] A hearing on Jackson-Hicks' objection was held by the Election Board on Dec. 10, 2014. At that hearing, the attorney for the Election Board presented evidence that at least 48 of the signatures on Parks' petitions were invalid, leaving him with no more than 123 valid signatures. Twelve additional signatures were also questioned on the grounds that those persons were not actually registered to vote
at the time they signed the petition, a circumstance that would render them ineligible to sign under section 3-1.2 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/3-1.2 (West 2012)). No other objections to the petitions were advanced or considered.
[¶7] The following day, December 11, 2014, the Election Board issued a written decision denying Jackson-Hicks' objection. The decision stated that the objection petition was in the proper form, that it had been timely filed, and that all required notices had been issued and served in accordance with statutory requirements. It also concluded that, as Jackson-Hicks had charged, Parks' nominating papers had " insufficient signatures as required by law." Despite this deficiency, the Election Board held " that there has been substantial compliance in that 136 signatures are required and [Parks'] nominating papers contain 123 valid signatures." Based on this " substantial compliance" theory, the Election Board ordered that Parks' name " shall appear on the ballot for election to the office of Mayor of the city of East St. Louis" at the upcoming consolidated primary election.
[¶8] Jackson-Hicks promptly filed a petition for judicial review of the Election Board's decision in the circuit court of St. Clair County (10 ILCS 5/10-10.1 (West 2012)), arguing that because Mayor Parks had failed to submit the minimum number of valid signatures required by the Election Code, the Election Board should have sustained her objection and prevented Parks name fro appearing on the ballot. Following a hearing, the circuit court rejected Jackson-Hicks' argument and upheld the Election Board's decision. In doing so, it relied on the same theory as the Election Board, namely, that Parks had " substantially complied" with the statutory signature requirement.
[¶9] Jackson-Hicks next sought review from the appellate court. Again she was unsuccessful. The appellate agreed that the Election Board had properly denied Jackson-Hicks' objection to Mayor Parks' nomination papers, notwithstanding the fact that Parks' petitions lacked the minimum number of signatures required by the Election Code, based on the theory of " substantial compliance." It therefore affirmed. 2015 IL App. (5th) 150028, 389 Ill.Dec. 755, 27 N.E.3d 247.
[¶10] The week after the appellate court issued its opinion, as corrected, Jackson-Hicks petitioned this court for leave to appeal pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 315 (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015)). She also moved that we consider her petition on an expedited basis and, if we allowed it, that we set an expedited briefing schedule so that the matter could be resolved prior to the April 7 election. Jackson-Hicks' motion was granted. We allowed her petition for leave to appeal, ruled that her petition for leave to appeal would stand as her brief and set an expedited timetable for filing of the appellees' brief, a reply brief (if any), and the record. We also ordered that the case would be heard on the briefs without oral argument. The appellees' and reply briefs have now been filed, and the matter is ready for a decision on the merits.
[¶12] As a preliminary matter, Mayor Parks contends we should not reach the merits of Jackson-Hicks' appeal because the matter is now moot. This argument is without merit. A case on appeal becomes moot where the issues presented in the trial court no longer exist because events subsequent to the filing of the appeal render it impossible for the reviewing court to grant the complaining party effectual relief.
Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 207-08, 886 N.E.2d 1011, 319 Ill.Dec. 887 (2008). This is not such a case. Although the time for the scheduled February 24 primary has come and gone and materials submitted by Mayor Parks indicate that ballots have been printed and absentee voting has begun for the April 7 ...