East St. Louis voters will decide March 20 whether or not to retain the city's elections board.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn on Friday rejected opposition to a ballot referendum that would break up the East St. Louis Board of Elections.
McGlynn ordered the Circuit Clerk's office to place the proposition that will appear on the ballot in an East St. Louis newspaper.
"The election laws are unfair and disconnected from one another. It's a real mess," said Matt Hawkins, president of the East St. Louis Alliance, which drove the petition approved by McGlynn.
"I believe that for the first time ever, the city of East St. Louis will have a chance to vote, and their vote will count as it does in other communities," Hawkins said over the telephone on Saturday. When we have real leaders, that will create real tax rates and real jobs."
John Kurowski, attorney for the election board, said the issue "inevitably belongs on the ballot."
"The board had to oppose it, because there were at least 400 signatures out of 1,165 that were not registered voters," Kurowski said. "I have respect for the people who brought the petition."
"This is not a hostile angry situation. It's a legal issue."
There are eight municipal election authorities in Illinois. In addition to East St. Louis, the others are Aurora, Bloomington, Chicago, Danville, Galesburg, Peoria and Rockford.
"Proponents think it'll be cheaper government to have elections run by the county." Kurowski said.
"The people of East St. Louis want the autonomy of their own election board and don't want the county telling them what to do."
Having the state legislature repeal the election authority is another method to disband the East St. Louis Election Authority, Kurowski said.
Hawkins said the East St. Louis Board of Elections involved strategically striking names from the Alliance's petition based on a desire of the election board staff to prevent loss of their jobs, as admitted in closing by their own legal counsel, Hawkins wrote in an e-mail to the Record.
He said he spent three hours challenging the standing of an election authority in court on Friday. He says his petition had no "obvious" or "apparent" defects.
"There is much to be gained by having our election authorities maintain independence and avoid being directly involved in advocating for one voter's choice over another," McGlynn wrote in his order.
"The Court wishes to make clear that this decision should not be interpreted as reflecting poorly on the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners. This Court would reach the same conclusion as to any election authority seeking to be an objector to a citizen petition."
Kurowski noted that East St. Louis has developed a perception of voter fraud.
"There's some history that the election authority is the cause of that or related to that," he said. "That wasn't a big theme. The executive director has been there 30 years, and he's as honest as the day is long. If the county takes over, they'll have the same challenges that this board does as well."