CAHOKIA — The superintendent of Cahokia School District 187 said Wednesday that police have assured him no students were intimidated or told how to cast their ballots when they took a class bus trip last week to vote early in the Nov. 6 election.
Art Ryan said he spoke with Cahokia Police Chief Jimmy Jones after village police officers questioned about a half dozen students upon their return. Cahokia High School Principal Kevin Bement monitored the questioning, Ryan said.
"He (Jones) said he had no evidence of wrongdoing," said Ryan, who added that no student was asked how he or she voted.
Ryan said concern that some of the 50-60 young voters were harassed during the trip about how to vote was exaggerated, and may be due to baseless complaints from competing political factions in a heated local Cahokia election -- the race for St. Clair County Board member from the 25th District.
Ryan said the field trip has routinely occurred in previous years and students who are at least 18 years old were given a chance to sign up for the excursion.
On Tuesday, another bus carrying Cahokia High School students to the courthouse in Belleville was escorted by a sheriff's deputy and two investigators from State's Attorney Brendan Kelly's office. No criminal complaints involving voter intimidation have been filed by his office, Kelly said Wednesday.
Last week's three bus caravan to the election department on the second floor of the St. Clair County Building included a smaller, Centreville Township bus driven by Marty Crawford, a Democratic incumbent County Board member who is running unopposed.
Crawford's involvement helped fuel speculation of voter intimidation from his political opponents, including village code enforcement officer Joe Morgan, who won the Democratic primary in March for the 25th District county board seat. Morgan defeated the candidate put forth by the St. Clair County Democratic Committee.
The county Democrats offset their defeat by helping to form the Good Government Party and selected Centreville Township Supervisor Curtis McCall's son -- Curtis McCall Jr. -- a teacher -- to run against Morgan. The Republicans have not fielded a candidate.
The elder McCall, long an opponent of the county Democrats headed by Belleville attorney Robert Sprague, said his new allegiance with the county committee has created fear among Morgan's backers, which includes Cahokia Mayor Gary Cornwell.
McCall accused Cornwell of using the Cahokia police department's recently completed voter fraud investigation as a pretense to intimidate voters.
"The mayor has used the police department in a way that is totally unacceptable," said McCall. "They've been going door to door to the houses, questioning voters about who they voted for. I feel the mayor is feeling the pressure of a very strong ground effort by us this election cycle."
As for the early voting bus trip, McCall, the township supervisor, said, "They (village officials) were filming kids as they got off the buses. The police were there. I know as a parent I would have been livid."
McCall Jr., the candidate, could not be reached for comment.
Cornwell, the mayor, said he had no involvement in the police investigation, which focused on about 1,300 new Democratic registered voters who are said to be aligned with McCall despite the party label. Cornwell said his police chief, Jimmy Jones, could not talk about the pending investigation.
However, Cornwell said it was complaints that he received that members of McCall's faction were telling the students how to vote that resulted in the police questioning of several students. He accused two truant officers who rode on the bus as being McCall supporters.
Cornwell said he spoke to one student when the student, whom he recognized, came up to him. He identified the student as Breon Dillard, 18, who was arrested at an early voting polling place Sunday on a charge of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor, after he refused to leave after voting, despite being told to do so several times, according to circuit court records.
Cornwell said he asked Dillard only whether he had been told who to vote for and was told that no one had pressured him.
Joe Morgan said that at the same polling place on Sunday, he saw two men who are on felony probation for vote fraud in Cahokia conversing.
Morgan said an assistant state's attorney he recognized also saw the men and took their license plate number. Kelly, the state's attorney, could not be reached later to determine whether the two men might be charged with violating probation. Felons on probation are often prohibited from having contact with other felons.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org