Candidate on ballot despite ‘incomplete petition’

Documents were either incomplete or late, but Melissa Lewis remains on ballot

When Rockford voters in the Second Ward go to the polls in April, they will likely have a candidate on the ballot who would not be there had it not been for lapses in judgment by officials at the Rockford Board of Election Commissioners. The lapses resulted in a race between Democratic challenger Melissa Lewis and Republican incumbent Pat Curran.

According to Patrick W. Hayes, attorney for the Rockford Board of Election Commissioners and law firm Guyer and Enichen, Lewis arrived at approximately 4:30 p.m., on the day of the filing deadline, Dec. 13 . Hayes said Lewis was informed by an unidentified Rockford election official that her petitions did not include the required statement of economic interest.

Lewis later returned shortly after the 5 p.m. filing deadline with the economic interest statement. However, election officials had already locked the door.

Hayes said an election official then unlocked the door to allow Lewis into the building. Hayes was subsequently reached by telephone for advice on how to handle Lewis’ candidate package. He informed the official to accept the petition as it existed at 4:30 p.m., not the time Lewis submitted the petition with economic interest statement, which was after the 5 p.m., deadline.

Hayes said: “I thought the only way to be fair was to accept the package, and then have others decide whether to challenge [her candidacy]. …She was allowed to file an incomplete petition.” However, a source said Lewis’ candidacy is not likely to be challenged before the election.

Hayes also said the door should not have been unlocked for Lewis, and the election official should have accepted the package as it was submitted at 4:30 p.m.

Asked whether informing a candidate that their nominating package is incomplete comprises dispensing legal advice or practicing law without a license, Gary Kovanda, Winnebago County Deputy State’s Attorney, said the answer usually relies on the intent of the individual. Kovanda said in Lewis’ case, he thought the intent of the election official was to help the candidate, not dispense legal advice.

The Rockford Board of Election Commissioners’ Web site listed the incorrect date of the consolidated primary election as Feb. 25. The election is really Tuesday, Feb. 22.

See accompanying article, “Deceased voters appear on petition” on page A1.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!