Candidate raises questions after election officials say she may not have enough signatures to get on ballot
By Erick Johnson
Dorothy Brown blasted election officials as her mayoral hopes fell into jeopardy early Thursday, after officials from the Chicago Board of Elections released a preliminary report that said she had less than 12,500 valid signatures for the city election next month.
But the report has called into the question the board of elections joint review program, which it shares with the Cook County Clerk’s Office. Brown accused the Clerk’s office of being influenced by one of her challengers, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle’s political influence has dramatically increased in the past several years with her proteges – Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Lieutenant Governor Julianna Stratton. In addition, Preckwinkle is also chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Board officials maintain that the majority of Brown’s signatures are not valid and that she has little chance of qualifying to make the ballot next month.
The stunning development occurred as the Crusader was set to publish a story that detailed the challenges that Brown was facing during several marathon challenge hearings before board officials. Now, Brown is calling for a criminal investigation into the challenge proceedings that’s examining her 25,000 plus signatures that have been challenged by opponents Preckwinkle and businessman Willie Wilson. Both argued that most of the signatures were fraudulent and did not meet the requirements for petitions submitted by candidates for the city election that will be held on February 26.
Elections officials so far agree. Chicago Board of Elections Spokesperson Jim Allen said Brown appears to be about 1,100 signatures short of the 12,500 to remain on the ballot.
According to Allen, Brown had multiple signatures that look like they’re written by the same person. Allen said the board is currently examining 132 signatures from Brown’s petition papers. Allen was reported as saying the board is comparing the signatures to those on voter registrations cards.
With the city elections just six weeks away, the preliminary report has placed Brown in a dire situation. She will have the opportunity to refute the findings by presenting affidavits at hearings that are scheduled later this week.
In the meantime, Brown held an emergency press conference at the George W. Dunne Cook County office building in the Loop, where she said that during the challenge hearings, she received an additional 2,000 objections as her signatures were under review. Brown said within seven days she received as many 5,000 “negative rulings” on petition signatures.
“Something is seriously wrong her,” Brown said. “I’m calling on the Chicago Board of Elections to overturn these challenges against me and put my name on the ballot so that people can decide for themselves.”
During her press conference, Brown suggested that Preckwinkle used her influence to manipulate the process which is conducted by the Chicago Board of Elections and Cook County Clerk’s office, which she accused of working with Preckwinkle to influence the outcome of the challenge hearings. She called on Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to conduct an investigation into the challenge proceedings. But Foxx, who once served as Preckwinkle’s chief of staff, was heavily backed by Preckwinkle during her campaign to oust Anita Alvarez in the primary elections in 2016.
Allen denied Brown’s claims, telling the Crusader that the system was fair and that no new objections were added as Brown’s challenge hearings were going on. He did confirm that the Chicago Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk’s office share the joint review program that have supervised elections for five years.
Mayoral candidates must obtain at least 12,500 signatures to make the ballot. Preckwinkle and Wilson filed papers to challenge Brown’s eligibility after she submitted her signatures in November. Brown has the potential of taking away critical Black votes that Preckwinkle and Wilson need to win the mayoral race.
Preckwinkle and Wilson argue that Brown’s signatures were not from registered voters. They also alleged that Brown’s petition signatures weren’t real and were signed by someone else. Another accusation is that those who signed the petition did not properly include their voter address and that some even signed Brown’s petition more than once. Brown’s opponents also alleged a “pattern of fraud and false swearing” with an “utter and contemptuous disregard for the mandatory provisions of the Election Code.”
With these allegations, Brown’sopponents say she does not have the required 12,500 valid signatures needed to be placed on the election ballot.
The Crusader spoke to Allen early Thursday about the Brown’s challenge hearings. He told the Crusader that Preckwinkle and Wilson’s allegations were looked at on Tuesday, January 8 during two record examinations that were conducted at the same time. Allen said both examinations were necessary because Brown had objections from Preckwinkle and Wilson.
During the record examination, Allen said Brown’s signatures were reviewed by the Chicago Board of Election’s Voters Registration department, which verifies addresses of registered voters. Allen said a handwriting expert examines the signatures to determine whether they are authentic and matches those the Voters Registration department has on file.
Allen said after the signatures have been verified, a hearing officer makes a recommendation to the Chicago Board of Elections, which then makes the final decision on whether to sustain an objection or reject it.
Last December, the board removed Conrein Hykes Clark, Richard Mayers and Sandra Mallory from the ballot after their opponents filed challenges to their signatures. The board concluded that Clark and Mayers didn’t meet the minimum requirement of 12,500 signatures and Mallory’s petition sheets were submitted in several bundles instead of the single, uniform package required by state election codes. Late December, Ja’Mal Green dropped out the mayoral race, saying he lacked the funds to continue his campaign. There are now 17 mayoral candidates remaining in the race.
With more challenge hearings to go, the board anticipates that Early Voting is not likely to start on January 17, which is 40 days before Election Day. The number of candidate objections is average, but the newer law that provides the 40-day schedule for Early Voting is not workable.