Rep. Bobby Rush to remain on ballot after Elections Board rejects most of opponent’s petition challenges

The Illinois State Board of Elections meeting on Thursday at the James R. Thompson Center. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

The Illinois State Board of Elections threw out most of 1st District congressional candidate Sarah Gad’s challenges concerning Rep. Bobby Rush’s (1st) petitions, ensuring that he will remain on the St. Patrick’s Day primary ballot for another term.

On Thursday, the Board unanimously adopted Hearing Officer Michael Tecson’s recommendations on the outstanding challenges Gad had presented.

At the Jan. 3 hearing on the challenges, Tecson had banned Gad’s “forensic handwriting expert,” Warren Spencer, because Gad did not provide any credentials or qualifications for him. Gad had posited that circulator Harvey Cook did not authenticate his petition sheets with a signature, but Cook testified that he did, and Gad failed to produce any evidence that he did not sign them.

Tecson found that Gad provided no evidence regarding four circulators’ supposedly incorrect addresses listed on their petition sheets, nor did she provide any evidence that a notary public, Darva Watkins, authenticated any sheets outside of the presence of any circulator or that she failed to verify their identities. Gad did not elicit testimony or provide proof that two unsigned pages among the hundreds that Watkins notarized were anything other than “simple errors.”

He did suggest that the Elections Board strike two sets of petition sheets both numbered 110-119, consisting of 382 total signatures. After the Board did so, Rush still had 5,683 valid signatures, 4,453 more than the minimum to stay on the ballot.

“We are pleased with the recommendations against any alleged fraudulent activity associated with Congressman Bobby L. Rush’s petition filings and move forward to having his name added to the ballot,” said campaign manager Mary Datcher in a statement. “Ms. Gad has tried to utilize the system to benefit in her favor to deny voters in the 1st Congressional District a fair opportunity to make the best decision on March 17, 2020.”

After the hearing, Michael Kreloff, Rush’s attorney, said, “Voters have First Amendment rights to put people’s names on the ballot. Mr. Rush filed over 6,000 signatures, needing less than 1,300. The very concept that you would remove someone from the ballot because of a numbering error — where 97% were numbered correctly — is offensive to the First Amendment, and I do think it’s inappropriate to make objections like this and pretend that you care about democracy.”

The Board also rejected Gad’s challenges of candidate Ameena Nuur Matthews’ petitions, ensuring that she will be on the Democratic primary ballot, as well.

Gad’s campaign did not respond to request for comment.