No Can Do: Macon, IL Clerk Declines to Reverse 1-Vote Sheriff’s Race

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Macon County, IL’s clerk is resisting calls to reverse a county sheriff’s race decided by one vote after new ballots emerged that appear to change the outcome, saying state law regarding recounts must continue. The Herald-Review has more:

Any change to the results of the close Macon County sheriff’s race will come through the court system, as County Clerk Josh Tanner said Wednesday that he does not have the authority to undo the previously certified outcome. 

The announcement comes just over a week since the county Republican Party sent a letter to the clerk’s office asking Tanner, as the local election authority, to reverse the results of the Nov. 6 midterm election that saw Democrat Tony Brown defeat Republican Jim Root by a single vote, 19,655 to 19,654. 

The basis for the Republicans’ argument was that two uncounted ballots, both for Root, were discovered after Election Day and not included when mail-in and provisional ballots were counted on Nov. 20. Republicans argued that if the two ballots had been counted by former County Clerk Steve Bean, Root would have been declared the winner and would have started his term as sheriff on Dec. 1 rather than Brown.

County Democrats have since said they “strongly disagree” that there are two valid, uncounted ballots that could change the result.

Illinois has a post-election process that begins with a “discovery recount” and, if warranted, continues with further court proceedings – all paid for by the candidate seeking the recount. Root’s campaign had hoped to avoid that by appealing to the clerk, to no avail:

Root appeared to be the winner with a 99-vote advantage after Election Day, but Brown rose to the top once the additional ballots were counted Nov. 20. Root subsequently requested a nonbinding discovery recount, which allows candidates to gather evidence so they can petition for a court to order a full recount. The cost of the recount will be covered by Root.  

An official from the Illinois State Board of Election previously said state’s election code allows local election authorities to correct “obvious discrepancies” before they certify their vote and send it to the state. But that only applies before the state board certifies the election results, which occurred on Nov. 27, and anything afterward requires a court order to change.

Following the county Republicans’ request that Tanner reverse the election result, Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott asked the attorney general’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to advise on the matter.

Tanner said Wednesday that an official from the attorney general’s office contacted him Friday to say he lacked the authority to change the outcome. He said they did not provide him with any legal arguments in writing, but said over the phone they could not find any law or precedent that would allow the clerk to reverse the results.

Root will continue his challenge in court:

Root has said he plans to seek a full recount, which would require a civil case be filed in Macon County Circuit Court. State officials have said he has until Dec. 27, or 30 days after the state certified the election results, to do so.

Before that occurs, Root and his team have request a continuation of the discovery recount, which was “suspended” on Nov. 30. Tanner said that will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 17, and should last until lunchtime. 

This is undoubtedly frustrating for both candidates (for different reasons), but I think it’s the right result that election officials lack the authority to simply change the results of an election after certification. That may seem less efficient. but it keeps the election office in the position of applying election law rather than having the power to unilaterally declare winners. If nothing else, it will be an interesting New Year in Macon as this case continues.  Stay tuned …

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