Lisa Copland, a candidate for Circuit Court judge, said she was naïve to believe that the election system is fair. Her friends had warned her that the machine would come after her.
“I thought I was qualified and that was naïve,” she said. “I underestimated the machine.”
Copland was running against Democratic endorsed candidate Oran Whiting, Kathryn Maloney Vahey and John Maher for Judge of the Circuit Court Cook County Judicial Circuit to fill the vacancy of retiring Judge Eileen Mary Brewer.
Candidates who run for an elected office can challenge the signatures of their opponents to determine whether or not they are legitimate. Many office seekers will go above and beyond getting the required number of signatures needed to get on the ballot because they know many signatures will be knocked off due to the name not matching the address.
Whiting and Vahey challenged Copland’s signatures. Both candidates appeared to work together to make sure Copland would not get on the ballot. Vahey used an attorney who has worked with many Democrats.
Copland collected 9,300 signatures, well above the required 3,756 signatures. However, records examiners and the Chicago Board of Elections determined that almost 6,000 signatures were no good and that she was short 462 names.
She contends that her hearing regarding the validity of the signatures she collected for her candidacy was “unfair, biased, reckless and out of guidelines.” She alleges that the process was tainted because the people who ruled on her ballot challenge were not properly trained.
She said there were many errors made by the people examining her signatures. Some of the City records examiners were familiar with the County records system but some were not, Copland said.
One records examiner was pulled from examining the signatures because he lacked training for his job, and had difficulty seeing because he did not have his glasses and he had to search the petitioner by name and address.
Another records examiner worked the records exam for four days. However, this examiner was not properly trained for working in the county system and was a city employee, which should have disqualified him, she said.
This records examiner who also determined many of Copland’s signatures ineligible was questioned about the mistakes she made and she acknowledged that when checking signatures she “got confused,” but “I ruled all my petitions that way.” This records checker was responsible for more than 1,500 signatures. When the City Board of Elections supervisor instructed this person to correct her mistakes, she discovered petitions she didn’t examine but were under her name.
Copland said she had an unusual high number of signatures rejected not because the address didn’t match the name, but because the determined signatures didn’t match their voter registration cards.
The hearing officer for the Cook County Electoral Board did not acknowledge any errors by the City records examiners in Copland’s case. Copland said he consulted the City Board of Elections supervisor in making his decision to deny her request to re-examine the tainted petitions, but did not allow her attorney to question or cross examine the supervisor during the hearing. The hearing officer often overruled her expert during the hearing, Copland said.
She also said that she hired a handwriting expert, but very time the expert declared a signature genuine, the hearing officer would overrule him. Copland said the hearing officer does not have the authority to do this.
“These issues caused Ballot denial for the candidate, takes away the voter’s choice, and reflects on the Cook County corruption problem,” she said.
Copland said she could have appealed the hearing officer’s decision and perhaps see her case go to the state Supreme Court. But her experience told her the odds were against her.
While Copland was fighting the machine to get on the ballot, a protest was happening outside the Cook County Elections Board downtown where a disproportionate number of women and people of color faced challenges to their petitions.
“I feel like it’s all connected,” Copland said. “I didn’t fully understand what would happen until it happened to me.”