Ballot access championed in high court decision; Justices unanimously reverse Gleeson and Fifth

Ann Maher Mar. 22, 2012, 7:46am



SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Supreme Court has unanimously reversed two lower court decisions that kept a St. Clair County Republican candidate off the ballot in the November 2010 election.

Objector Peggy Pierce of Cahokia in April 2010 challenged the slating of Whitney Wisnasky-Bettorf of O'Fallon as a candidate for the St. Clair County Board of Review, a three-member panel that hears property tax assessment appeals.

Wisnasky-Bettorf did not run in that year's primary election. Instead, she was slated to the position by the St. Clair County Republican Central Committee on March 25, 2010. The committee filed a resolution and notice of appointment with the County Clerk's office on April 1, 2010, however it was challenged by Pierce because of a requirement to file the paperwork within three days.

The St. Clair County Electoral Board, composed of Democrats Bob Delaney, County Clerk; Charles Suarez, County Treasurer and Bob Haida, former State's Attorney and now a circuit judge. The board denied Wisnasky-Bettorf petition to be slated as a candidate.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson, a Democrat, upheld the board.

Wisnasky-Bettorf, represented by Brian Funk of O'Fallon, took the case to the Fifth District Appellate Court.

On Aug. 19, 2010, the appellate court upheld Gleeson in a 2-1 decision. Justices James Wexstten and Bruce Stewart, Democrats, were in the majority. Justice Stephen Spomer, a Republican, dissented.

The Supreme Court, in its decision released on Thursday, held that a section of Election Code that Pierce's objection relied upon did not apply to this case.

Justice Charles Freeman wrote that the state legislature specifically sets forth procedures to be followed in situations where no name was put on the primary ballot and no write-in candidate was nominated by primary voters.

"To hold otherwise would be clearly against the legislative intent... and against this state's position in favor of ballot access for candidates running for public office," Freeman wrote.

The section of election code that should apply to Wisnasky-Bettorf's case was amended in 2009, and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. It added specific requirements for a vacancy in nomination when no established political party candidate was printed on the general primary ballot.

Pierce's objection relied upon a section of the Illinois Election Code that applied to situations where a candidate is nominated at the primary and a vacancy in nomination occurs as a result of the death or resignation of that person nominated.

In her challenge to the appellate court decision reached less than three months before the general election in 2010, Wisnasky-Bettorf did not seek a new election. Rather, she sought clarification of the law for future elections.

"Issues regarding the filling of vacancies in nomination of a public office are of substantial public interest," Freeman wrote.

Pierce is a plaintiff in another St. Clair County lawsuit. In 2010, she and other former employees of the Commonfields of Cahokia Water District sued the district and its trustees alleging they were wrongfully fired for supporting the defendants' opponents in an election.

Robert Sprague, the St. Clair County Democratic Party Chairman, represented the plaintiffs in that action.

Wisnasky-Bettorf is again seeking election to the St. Clair County Board of Review. She ran unopposed on the GOP ticket in Tuesday's primary election.

She will face Democrat Michael P. Crockett, Jr. in the November election.

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