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State Elections Board: Cunningham can't run for Congress

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 1:40 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 4:37 p.m. CDT

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Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham's candidacy for Congress appears to be nearing legal nonexistence once again.

The Illinois State Board of Elections decided Monday yet again that too many of Cunningham's nominating petitions were suspect and invalid, and effectively ordered that Cunningham's name be removed from the ballot in the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois' 11th Congressional District.

The ruling is subject to the review of the Illinois First District Appellate Court, which sent the matter to the elections board for renewed consideration last week.

The question of whether Cunningham's candidacy is valid has been the subject of legal wrangling for weeks.

The tiff began shortly after Cunningham, of Aurora, filed petitions in January to run against U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, of Hinsdale, in the March 20 GOP congressional primary election in the 11th district.

That district includes the communities of Aurora and North Aurora in Kane County, as well as the cities of Naperville, Joliet and Bolingbrook in DuPage and Will counties.

Two Biggert supporters challenged Cunningham's petitions, asserting he did not have enough legally valid signatures on his petitions to legally be allowed to run for Congress.

The Illinois State Board of Elections upheld that objection in February, tossing Cunningham off the ballot. Cunningham then appealed the decision to the courts, and a Cook County circuit court judge reversed the elections board decision, ordering Cunningham back on the ballot.

The objectors then appealed that decision, and the appellate court stayed the circuit court ruling and sent the matter back to the elections board, ordering the elections board to reach a decision based on evidence, presented by Biggert's camp, that the elections board had initially sidestepped. The appeals court also ordered the state board to render a decision by March 13.

In its decision issued March 12, the ISBE ruled that two people who had circulated petitions for Cunningham's campaign had failed to properly notarize the petitions that Cunningham later submitted. The ISBE said the notary used for those suspect petitions notarized petitions for circulators who did not personally appear when the petitions were notarized.

As a result, the state board tossed out all the petitions notarized by that particular notary, even if the circulators had appeared personally before the notary.

With those suspect petitions disqualified, Cunningham did not secure enough signatures to appear on the ballot, the ISBE ruled.

John Fogarty, a lawyer representing the objectors, said his party was "very gratified" by the ruling.

"We're pleased the board's ruling went our way, and we hope the appellate court does, as well," he said.

Cunningham said he was disappointed the matter was even sent back to the state elections board, as he said it sets a bad precedent for future candidate petition objection proceedings.

"This sets the standard that in the future, you can file an objection and then go on a witch hunt at the hearings," Cunningham said.

He said he is awaiting the ruling from the appellate court before deciding what his next course of action might be. But Cunningham said he believes he has several options at his disposal, including further legal challenges, running as an independent candidate in the November general election or biding his time until the 2014 congressional elections.

"My goal has been and remains to give voters in this district a real choice," Cunningham said.

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