A Madison County electoral board will reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday to begin proceedings in a ballot access challenge to a property tax cut proposal.
But before the board allows opening statements from the objectors to a proposed referendum, it will likely to rule on procedural motions argued by attorneys representing proponents of a measure that seeks to reduce the county's maximum levy of 25 cents per $100 assessed valuation to a maximum of 20 cents.
The board took three motions under advisement during a hearing Thursday afternoon in a Madison County courtroom packed with supporters who want voters in November to decide the tax cut question and opponents who argue that thousands of signatures to the referendum petition gathered this spring are fraudulent and therefore the referendum should die.
On June 7, the board - comprised of Madison County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza, by statute, and two members appointed by Chief Judge Dave Hylla - former associate judge James Hackett and former assistant state's attorney Stephanie Robbins - ruled that it would review all 9,900 signatures on the petitions rather than just review the approximate 3,000 signatures that objectors Bennett Dickmann and Richard Gillespie questioned.
Attorneys James Craney and Don Weber moved for Ming-Mendoza's recusal saying a conflict of interest exists because an "impermissible" full binder check is being overseen by her office.
They also seek reconsideration of the board's ruling on a full binder check.
"She is now a witness in this case, and will be called upon to testify in such a way that prohibits her from adjudicating the issue of a binder check that is being conducted by her own office," they wrote in a motion filed Thursday.
"Moreover, since respondents were denied written discovery (that is routinely granted in these matters) - respondents have no way to rule out whether the members of Ms. Ming-Mendoza's office participating in the binder check actually participated in the original objection."
They say they believe that members of her office who are participating in the binder check are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) who supported the objections, "if indeed they did not actually prepare the objections in the first place."
At the hearing, Ming-Mendoza said she wanted a transparent process and there was "no way" she would stand in its way.
"I will do what's best," she said.
Objectors' co-counsel Garrett Hoerner of Belleville said that there is no basis in law to disqualify Ming-Mendoza. He said that when she was first picked to serve on the panel the other side did not raise objections to her appointment.
Craney and Weber also moved for reconsideration of an earlier board decision denying written discovery of the objectors, saying it deprives their side of due process.
If the decision of the Madison County board is ultimately appealed to the State Board of Elections, the entire process could be nullified if there is not a fact-based record developed, Craney said.
Stephen Wigginton, former U.S. Attorney now in private practice, represents the electoral board. He countered Craney's argument that an appeal would be heard by the State Board of Elections, saying that election code indicates that it "may" go there.
Robbins' held that an appeal would be heard by the circuit court.
Hoerner argued that discovery rules are "absolutely" the discretion of the board.