Advocate leads push to disband East St. Louis Board of Elections

Ann Knef Aug. 4, 2011, 8:38am


Should the East St. Louis Board of Elections be disbanded?

That's a question Matt Hawkins, president of the grassroots group East St. Louis Alliance, would like city voters to answer.

Hawkins is trying to gain the general public's support by petitioning the 20th Judicial Circuit Court to "close" the East St. Louis Board of Elections.

The petition explains that "[p]oor citizens now pay county tax and city tax for the same election administration services which are currently performed well below acceptable standards by the East St. Louis Board of Elections."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Hawkins had stronger words for the East St. Louis Board of Elections. He called the system "corrupt."

East St. Louis Board of Elections Executive Director James Lewis has been contacted for comment. He had not returned a phone call by press time.

Ultimately, city voters would decide whether the election board disbands, if and when the question is certified to appear on a ballot. According to Hawkins, between 650 and 750 registered voters, or 10 percent of the vote total from the last election, would need to sign a petition to move the process forward.

Hawkins said his group would go door-to-door for those signatures. The primary purpose of knocking on doors would be to ensure that petition signers are authentic residents, he said. A secondary purpose, he said, would be to gather evidence to refute Board of Elections voter registration rolls.

He said he is tired of the "false outputs" produced by the East St. Louis Board of Elections.

"For the last 30-40 years there has been a distinct pattern in elections," Hawkins said, in a county in which the Democratic Party maintains control.

He said that on election nights, the East St. Louis Board of Elections counts votes after the county clerk's office tabulates its results and "knows exactly what is needed."

"The Democratic Party could not win an election at the county level if its life depended on it if not for East St. Louis," Hawkins said.

East St. Louis is one of three municipalities in Illinois that has its own election board apart from the county clerk's office, where ballots are counted. County clerks ultimately certify all elections in their respective counties. Peoria and Decatur also have separate election boards.

Hawkins has long been an advocate for reforming elections in a city that has more registered voters than eligible voters.

According to the 2010 Census, East St. Louis had a total population of 27,006. The population for those 18 and over, or those eligible to vote, was 19,098.

"With 22,000 registered voters, it seems to be a numerical impossibility for East St. Louis' Board of Elections to have an accurate or legal list of register voters," Hawkins has said.

Following the most recent municipal elections, Hawkins wrote to the Record:

"After reviewing results from the April 2011 election, the East St. Louis Alliance noted some interesting multi-voter households. In East St. Louis, we have 546 households with six or more registered voters and 22 with over 10. 

For instance, Oliver Hamilton, our current East St. Louis Township Supervisor, lives with 32 other people at his registered address in Precinct 2. He is also the precinct committeeman and 13 of these 33 registered voters (29 men and four women) actually voted in the general election. Are we supposed to believe that 13 adults are really living in the same house?"

Hawkins said the effort to disband the East St. Louis Board of Elections will be a tough battle.

"It will be like scaling a cliff," he said. "We have grappling gear."

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