In an opinion piece recently, a contributor asked the question: "What Happened to Democracy in Morton Grove?"
The answer is, "It worked," and here's why.
Representative government is based on rules. The rules are very specific. In the case of running for office and the steps getting to that point, the rules can be complicated. So can the job of holding public office be complicated.
There is a whole body of printed rules available to every citizen that show, step-by-step, what needs to be done before you can be placed on the ballot. These are not suggestions, they are requirements. Do them the way you are supposed to, you get to put your name in front of the electorate…don't do them the way you are supposed to and you run the risk of not having that opportunity. Part of being a responsible candidate is not only making sure that your papers are in order, but examining those of your opposition to satisfy yourself that any opposition papers are also in order. Nominating petitions are public documents, and as such are available to anyone who has an interest in looking at them.
Further, there are many steps that can be taken should a candidacy be challenged, as was recently illustrated in the case of the Chicago mayoral campaign. The first step is the local board of elections, whose procedure is governed by the Clerk of Cook County. It is a legal procedure with specific rules. Both parties are allowed the opportunity to present their case; both parties have the right to legal representation; both parties have the right to cross-examine and to present witnesses. Then the Board of Elections rules.The ruling is based on whether or not the election law has been followed…not just "sort of," but to the letter.
Nit-picky? Perhaps, but then the law is nit-picky.
Holding a public office is a great honor and a great responsibility. It requires more than a "good heart" and "good intentions." Among other things, because you are spending other peoples' money, it requires considerable attention to detail. In short, it requires following the rules…all of the rules…all of the time.
It hurts when you want to serve in office and you are not given that opportunity. It hurts when you have submitted nominating petitions and then are removed from the ballot by a local election board.
I know. It happened to me in 2006 when I wanted to run for Cook County Commissioner and was removed from the ballot by the Cook County Election Board because there was, in their opinion, a flaw that could not be overcome.
Was I angry at my opposition for making the objection? You bet I was. Was it their fault that I or my supporters had made a mistake that caused me to not be qualified to run? No, it was not their fault. To quote William Shakespeare: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."
We teach our children that we should follow the rules. We teach them to take personal responsibility when they make a mistake. Shouldn't we practice what we preach?