The Illinois Supreme Court on Monday ruled incumbent East St. Louis Mayor Alvin L. Parks Jr.’s name should be stricken from the April 7 ballot because he did not submit enough signatures on his petitions.
In doing so, the high court ruled in favor of Parks’ challenger, Emeka Jackson-Hicks, who unsuccessfully appealed the incumbent mayor’s petitions to the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners, St. Clair County Circuit Court and the Illinois Fifth District Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-0 in favor of Jackson-Hicks’ appeal.
Parks, the incumbent mayor, was seeking re-election in the upcoming municipal election. When reached, he said, “I am going to run a race to win the mayor’s seat.” Beyond that, Parks said, “I have no further comment until I talk to my attorney.”
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Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, in delivering the judgment of the court, wrote, “The question presented by this appeal is whether a candidate for municipal office is entitled to have his or her name placed on the ballot if the governing election board has properly calculated and announced the minimum number of valid signatures required by statute to support the candidate’s nominating petition, but the candidate’s petition falls short of that legally-mandated threshold.
“The election board in this case determined that Illinois law requires only substantial compliance with the numerical signature requirement and that the candidate whose eligibility is being challenged here had come close enough to the minimum requirement to permit his name to be placed before the voters.”
However, the high court disagreed.
The court determined that under a formula set by state law, mayoral candidates were required to have a minimum of 136 valid signatures. Parks’ petitions contained a total of 171 signatures, a figure that appeared to give him 35 more than the minimum required. However, Jackson-Hicks filed an objection to Parks’ nomination papers, challenging the validity of some of the signatures and contended that Parks had not, in fact, submitted sufficient valid signatures to permit his name to appear on the ballot. The court agreed that Parks had only 123 valid signatures.
The electoral board in East St. Louis and the St. Clair County Circuit Court both relied on the same theory that Parks had "substantially complied" with the statutory signature requirement.
The Supreme Court ruled that Parks’ position is “unprecedented, unworkable and contrary to law.”
The court's decision instructs the city election board that if it receives any ballots cast prior to the removal of Parks' name, the board shall be required to disregard any votes cast for Parks when determining the winner of the election.
When the news reached Jackson-Hicks and her team, everyone shouted for joy.
“Everyone has to follow the law, including me, and anyone else who wants to run for an elected office,” Jackson-Hicks said. “I’m ecstatic. Justice has been served. My team and I are going to continue to work. We want to win the election and give the citizens the things they deserve. I want to thank all of my supporters. Let’s keep moving and working until we win this election.”
Her attorney, Eric Evans, said he was delighted with the news. “We are glad that we finally got justice in the court system,” he said.
If Parks runs for re-election, he will have to do so as a write -in candidate. And, since the ballots have already been printed with Parks’ name on the ballot, any votes cast for him will not count, Evans said.
Jackson-Hicks is the daughter of state Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis. Last week, in an unusual move, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, endorsed Jackson-Hicks for the mayor’s office.
In December, members of the election board — Chairman Elmer Jones, Edna Allen and Joseph McCaskill — unanimously denied Jackson-Hick’s claim that Parks’ nominating petitions were invalid. St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Heinz Rudolph and the state appellate court did the same. She said at the time she was not worried about the board’s ruling because she was not stopping there, and felt the law was clearly on her side.
At the time, Parks said he was elated with the board’s decision. It “keeps me on the ballot and gives the citizens the opportunity to make a choice. If a candidate is qualified for office, he should have the opportunity to run,” Parks said.
Courtney Hoffman, who is also a candidate for the mayor’s job, said, “Today is a victory for East St. Louis citizens. Today is a great day for the state of Illinois as a whole. Today puts East St. Louis’ political machine in its place.
“We can no longer allow our city politicians to do as they please. Now, the city has to move forward and decide it they want a candidate that is campaigning on the slogan, “You Deserve More,” but yet has not given us more over the last seven to eight years that she has sat side by side with Mayor Park,” Hoffman said, referring to Jackson-Hicks.