Politics & Government

Independent candidate kicked off Madison County ballot

The court has ruled: Tyler Oberkfell will not appear on the ballot for Madison County Board District 2.

Oberkfell filed a petition as an independent to run for the county board to represent Troy. His opponent was Republican Donald Moore, who defeated incumbent Roger Alons in the primary election.

In order to appear on the ballot, each candidate had to get a sufficient number of signatures on a petition. Moore only needed enough signatures to equal 5 percent of registered Republicans who voted in the last gubernatorial election — 19 signatures. But since Oberkfell is an independent, he needed 232.

His petition had 273 signatures, but Moore filed an objection, stating that some of the signatures were invalid. In a series of hearings before the Madison County Electoral Board, 39 signatures were disqualified. This left Oberkfell on the ballot by two votes, with a total of 234.

Moore then appealed to the Madison County Circuit Court for judicial review of the decision.

On Tuesday, the case went before Madison County Circuit Judge John Barberis, who ruled that the electoral board erred in not eliminating four invalid signatures that were not included on Moore’s objection. That put Oberkfell two votes short of the minimum required to be on the ballot.

“The electoral process is what’s at question here, and it’s not whether the individual has the right to run for an office,” Barberis said. “Anyone who qualifies with age and residency can petition to be on the ballot.”

But Barberis said the board opted to do a full binder check, and had to exclude all invalid signatures it found, whether or not Moore had objected to them. The board had argued that only signatures that Moore objected to should be excluded.

Moore was present; Oberkfell could not attend.

“I won’t be there due to work,” Oberkfell said prior to the hearing. “This would be the sixth day I missed because of this waste of time and money.”

Instead, his lawyer, William Schooley, represented him at the hearing. Attorney James Craney represented Moore, and Jeff Ezra represented the Electoral Board.

Craney argued that the Electoral Board’s decision in the Oberkfell case was inconsistent with policies set by the previous electoral board, which heard objections to the petition for a referendum on a countywide tax cut.

Ezra argued that the referendum case was heard by a different board — nearly all the officers usually required to serve had recused themselves due to their public statements on the issue of the tax cut.

In both cases, the boards overruled objections and allowed the petitions to stand.

Ezra also said that Barberis’ decision is supposed to be guided solely by this case and the arguments regarding Oberkfell, not prior cases. “The court is limited to the record of this particular (case),” Schooley said. “It’s not relevant for this case.”

He said the signatures in question were not in Moore’s original objection, and they could not come back later and add more objections after the case has been filed and decided.

After the ruling, Schooley made a motion to put a stay on Barberis’ decision pending a possible appeal; either Oberkfell or the electoral board could appeal to a higher court before the election. But Barberis said County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza was “adamant” that a final decision needed to be made before ballots needed to be printed, and so he denied the motion.

Schooley said the decision whether or not to appeal was up to Oberkfell, and if he did not appeal or his appeal was unsuccessful, he can still appear as a write-in candidate. Ezra said it would be up to the members of the electoral board whether or not they appealed.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald