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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Voting by Secret Ballot a Violation of OMA

In its sixth binding opinion of 2013, the PAC office of the Illinois Attorney General found the Edgar County Airport Advisory Board in violation of the Open Meetings Act when it held a secret ballot to recommend to the Edgar County Board a candidate to fill a vacant seat on the Advisory Board.  PAC Opinion 13-006 (May 13, 2013). 
Two complaints had been filed with the PAC claiming that the Advisory Board held a secret ballot at a regular meeting of the Board.  The Advisory Board filed a response with the PAC acknowledging that the Advisory Board had conducted an anonymous straw vote by paper ballot at an open meeting, but that the names of the candidates were read to the public and the final tally was publicly disclosed at the meeting.
The PAC first determined that the "straw vote" was a final action by the Advisory Board to recommend a candidate to the County Board and, therefore, was subject to the requirements of the OMA.  Second, the PAC opined that the use of secret ballots by public bodies undermines the public's right to know, citing a 1933 Attorney General's Opinion and an appellate decision from 1981 holding that the public has the right to know how each individual member of a public body votes.  WSDR v. Ogle County, 100 Ill.App.3d 1008 (2d Dist. 1981).  Although the Advisory Board did read the votes out loud and publicly announced the results of the vote, it did not make a record of the individual members' votes. 
Based on the above findings, the PAC determined that the Advisory Board violated the OMA by taking final action using secret ballots.  The decision is consistent with Section 1 of the OMA that provides that the public has the right to be informed as to the conduct of public business.  It also seems reasonable to expect that public officials have some accountability to the public for the positions they take on public issues. 
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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