Washington Park mayoral candidate Terrilyn Gossett claims that manipulation of mail-in ballots is a pervasive problem that has been going on for years and one that marginalizes her impoverished community.
Gossett said that someone like her stands little chance to win on election day - April 4 - because she's not part of the political establishment and she doesn't have an organization canvassing neighborhoods for the roughly 2,300 registered votes.
She believes the election already has been decided given the number of mail-in - or absentee - ballot applications that have been made and the number that have already been returned. As of March 28, 842 ballot applications have been made and 564 have been returned in the village's Canteen precincts, according to records from the St. Clair Couunty elections office.
Gossett is in a three-way mayor's race with incumbent Ann Rodgers, who's running as a write-in, and village trustee Rickie Thomas.
Rodgers has received $7,700 in contributions in the last six months, mostly from Granite City attorney Eric Evans who represented her in a ballot challenge, and the campaign committee of radio voice Bob Romanik.
The St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee, chaired by Belleville attorney Robert Sprague, has given Thomas $18,500.
In the last mayoral election in 2013, at which time there were 2,632 registered voters, a total of 1,052 voters cast ballots or 40 percent of the electorate.
In the 2015 Washington Park trustees election, there were 2,275 registered voters. A total of 757 votes or 33 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
If all of the ballots applied for as of March 28 get returned in time, at least 37 percent of registered voters in Washington Park will have voted by election day - a rate comparable to the final tally in the last mayoral election and a rate higher than in the 2015 election. In addition to the mayor's seat, voters also will pick four village trustee seats, Canteen Township supervisor, Canteen Township clerk, Canteen Township commissioner, three Township trustee seats, park Commissioner and four members of the District 189 Board of Education.
While local government has not retracted at all, population in the Village of Washington Park has in a big way, having shrunk from 5,345 in 2000 to 4,196 in 2010. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2015 population at 3,990.
The percentage of persons in poverty is 41.8 percent; the median house value is $45,600.
It's not hard to understand why the population is shrinking: many streets are unpaved and without signage; many of the roads in neighborhoods are filled with enormous craters; after rainfall, water stands in those holes and in low lying areas. Trash is piled up in some places. It's also not unusual to see many houses on some blocks burned out.
"I've been here since '75," Gossett said. "There's so much corruption. It's sickening. It has to stop."
She said she has no intention of leaving.
"My legacy starts and ends here," she said.
In addition to what Gossett calls mail-in ballot improprieties, such as a decedent and an imprisoned man voting and people voting from addresses at which they are not registered, she says that elderly and poor citizens are not getting the help they need from the people they elect. They are ones she calls "marginalized" and "disenfranchised."
She said she recently spoke with a woman in her 70s, distressed over holes in her ceilings, and frustrated because she could not qualify for an intergovernmental grant due to the property's uninsurability.
"What are these politicians doing," Gossett said. "Her house is falling apart. But she feels held hostage. People are afraid to vote against that."
Instances of voter fraud where people are voting from addresses where they do not live are also alleged by Rodgers.
One of her biggest criticisms is aimed at Thomas, a sitting village trustee, who maintains a home at 1180 Cromwell in Shiloh yet votes from a property he owns at 1231 N. 48th St. in Washington Park.
Property tax records for the most recent year billed show Thomas paid $378.50 in real estate tax for the Washington Park home and $5,270.06 for the Shiloh home.
Thomas has not returned a call seeking comment.
A candidate who had sought election as Canteen Township trustee, Christine Jackson, had been removed from the ballot upon the objection of township supervisor candidate Norman Miller who claimed Jackson did not live at the address she claimed on her nomination paperwork.