“Save Our Schools- Jacksonville” organizer Anthony Stephens saw a referendum question he fought to have put on the April ballot take one step closer to getting there after the board of education adopted a resolution to forward it to the Morgan County Clerk.
Three hours later, however, an objection filed by Stephens challenging two other candidacies was overturned by a three-member electoral board.
The District 117 school board is required by law to request the question of whether it should be elected in a ward-based system be put on the ballot after petition drives by Stephens and others forcing the issue got enough signatures. No objections to the petition were filed.
School board president Mindy Olson says the board isn’t taking an official stance on the referendum. For her personally, however, she maintains that voters need to consider the pros and cons of such a move.
“For instance, a registered voter has seven votes in four years and if you go to a ward-based system a registered voter will have one vote in four years,” says Olson. “So, in essence, they’re taking away a person’s right to vote. You’re going from seven votes to one vote.”
“I think it’s going to further segregate the district,” says Olson. “When you divide into wards I think it brings more segregation. I don’t think a school district should be about segregation. It should be about keeping a unified group, and seven school board members now represent all of the students of this district not just a certain section. We’re unified and we want to keep it that way.”
The scene shifted from Jacksonville High School to the Morgan County Courthouse for the hearing on the objection Stephens filed to the candidacy of Olson and fellow nominee Matthew Johnson.
He stated that their nominating petitions should be voided after they were notarized by the same people who signed them- in Johnson’s case, it was Olson who did both.
The electoral board panel, which consisted of Springfield attorney Brittany King Toigo, and school board members Craig Albers and Steve Cantrell, unanimously overruled the full objection.
Albers said he reviewed cases from the Chicago Board of Elections- specifically, the board’s notary commission- that indicated there was nothing in election code or the Illinois Notary Act to invalidate Olson and Johnson’s petitions.
Stephens also argued the petitions were incomplete and therefore invalid as a result of neither Olson or Johnson completing the part of the form that indicated what township in which they lived. In her time to argue, Olson said Morgan County is made up of road districts.
Stephens cited the county’s GIS mapping system to argue otherwise.
Stephens says he wasn’t surprised the electoral board overturned his objection. He request to have Albers and Cantrell not be on the review panel because they signed Olson’s petition was overruled.
“They wanted to see those candidates on the ballot and true to form this is what we got,” says Stephens. “They got their way. I respect the decision the electoral board makes. I think Mr. Albers did an excellent job arguing Ms. Olson’s case for her. I think everybody that reads it sees the conflict of interest but it’s difficult to prove, especially when the board members want to see a certain thing happen they’re going to see it through.”
Albers also signed Johnson’s petition.
District 117 attorney Allen Yow said case law indicates that bias is not grounds for being replaced from an electoral board.
Johnson thinks the board made the right decision.
“I think there were a lot of facts that we put out in front of why we thought the petitions were valid,” says Johnson. “I think the board saw that and through their own research saw the same thing. What I’m hoping is now that this is done we can get to what we’re really doing this for and that’s for the kids.”
The panel will make the decision official on Thursday. As a result, none would speak with WLDS-WEAI News on tape last night.
Stephens says he’s not planning an appeal at this time.