Petition checkers work to kick hopefuls off ballots

November 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) The board is reviewing petitions, hoping to find reasons to challenge signatures gathered by opposing candidates.

Petition checkers are the secret soldiers of so many political armies. Dozens of people--most of whom would not reveal their names-- were using every available computer terminal on three different floors Friday at the Chicago Board of Elections.

When asked what he was looking for, one checker told ABC7 Chicago, "I'd rather not go into the discussion. I'm just following my instructions."

"Your instruction from whom?" asked ABC7 political reporter Charles Thomas.

"That doesn't matter," the man responded.

The man admitted later that he was an employee of Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown. He said, on his day off, he was looking for unqualified signatures on the nominating petitions of county Board President Todd Stroger, whom Brown is challenging in the 2010 Democratic primary.

Stroger filed around 20,000 signatures Monday. If Brown's truth squad can invalidate about 12,000 of those, Stroger gets kicked off the ballot.

"So, who do you hand these sheets to after you've reviewed them?" Thomas asked one worker.

"The coordinator for this particular project," said petition reviewer David Moses.

When asked who that person was, Moses responded, "He's not around right now."

The city election board has a waiting list of people who want to review petitions for dozens of local and state races. And to accommodate them, the office will stay open late Friday and have weekend hours.

"A lot of signatures come from Chicago. So, a lot of signature-checking is happening here at the Chicago Board," said Jim Allen of the Chicago Board of Elections.

State Senator Rickey Hendon, who filed for lieutenant governor, says his petition checkers are in a battle with those sent by the state Democratic party chairman.

"Mike Madigan's workers, precinct captains, state employees [are] working to kick me off the ballot," said Hendon.

The alleged Madigan workers--like most other people here--refused to identify themselves or their bosses to ABC7 Chicago. Hendon, meanwhile, who has done this every election for decades, just brought his own troops to respond in kind. "They're going to try to knock me off the ballot. So, I'm trying to knock his boy, Art Turner, off the ballot. It's as simple as that. It's a war. I'm not complaining," Hendron said.

That's ABC7's look at some of the ugly mechanics of Chicago politics. Some may recall that Barack Obama won his first Illinois Senate primary election after he knocked the incumbent off the ballot because her petitions were not valid.

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