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Monday, September 10, 2012

Property Tax Debt Will Not Disqualify Candidate for Municipal Office

In Illinois, a person is not eligible for election to a municipal office if he or she owes taxes or is indebted to the municipality.  65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-5(b).   In a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court, this statute was interpreted to exclude propety taxes owed to the county treasurer.  Jackson v. Board of Election Commissioners of Chicago (September 7, 2012).

In this case, a candidate sought election to the office of Chicago Alderman.  Her candidacy was challenged  based on an alleged ineligibility for homestead exemptions on property owned by the candidate and her husband.  The candidate subsequently waived the exemptions on all but one of the parcels, and agreed to pay the Cook County treasurer the additional property tax that would have been due on the parcels had the exemptions not been claimed.  The objection to the candidate was first heard by the Chicago board of election commissioners who ruled that the candidate was not disqualified. On appeal, the circuit court affirmed the election board’s decision, but the appellate court reversed, set aside the election board’s decision, and ordered that the candidate's name must either (1) be removed from the ballot, or (2) if the name could not be removed from the ballot, then any votes cast for her would not be counted.

The candidate filed an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, holding that property tax payable to the Cook County treasurer does not constitute “a tax or other indebtedness due a municipality” within the meaning of the statute. 

What is interesting about this case is that the election had already taken place prior to the Supreme Court's ruling.  Since it was too late to remove the candidate's name from the ballot, the election authorities did not count any votes for the candidate in accordance with the appellate court's ruling.  Because the election was over, the objector argued to the Supreme Court that the candidate's appeal was moot.  Nevertheless, the Supreme Court chose to resolve the underlying legal dispute under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine.  The Court determined that the issue was likely to recur in future municipal elections, and that a ruling would aid election officials and lower courts in promptly deciding similar disputes in the future and avoid any uncertainty in the election process. 

Although technically a "win" for the candidate, the Supreme Court's ruling did not go so far as to grant any specific relief to the candidate.  As discussed in some detail in their partial dissent, Justices Freeman and Burke would have remanded the case back to the electoral board with instructions to conduct a special election in accordance with section 2A-1(e) of the Election Code. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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