A former police officer, police chief and city administrator from Edwardsville, Ben Dickmann, on Friday filed a formal objection to petitions filed last week regarding what critics say is a misleading tax referendum.
After a review of the petitions, volunteers have determined activists came nearly a thousand valid signatures short of qualifying for the ballot and more than 7,000 signatures short from their stated goal.
“There are some apparently legitimate questions about the accuracy and legitimacy of signatures,” Dickmann said in a press release Monday morning. “As someone who has spent their entire career protecting and serving our community by ensuring that laws were enforced fairly, consistently and equally, this was very disturbing to me. A serious matter like this demands that the procedures set forth by law be followed. Therefore, I decided to take a look to see if the concerns I had about this petition drive were true. “
According to election law, without this objection the referendum would be placed on the ballot without scrutiny. The objection starts a formal process of reviewing the validity of the petition effort.
“Mr. Dickmann deserves our thanks for starting this process,” new Madison County Democratic Chairman and Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida said. “This is the only way the public can make sure that corners were not cut.”
County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza will send out notice to impanel the County Officers Electoral Board. The board is made up of the county clerk, the circuit clerk and the state’s attorney. Acknowledging the obvious political implications of the petition process, attorneys have been consulted on how best to impanel a fair, impartial board. It is likely the chief judge will be asked to appoint a private citizen to serve on the board.
“It is not a Republican or Democratic question; it is a legal question: Are there enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot?” Von Nida said. “We realize that the public must have confidence in the decisions of the board; therefore, the Democratic officeholders are open to the idea of an appointment of a Republican.”
A review of the petitions has been an ongoing process throughout the weekend and additional questionable signatures have been found. An amended objection may also be filed on Monday.
Reached by phone Monday morning, Prenzler said he was confident the petitions would withstand scrutiny.
“We’ll just have to see on that issue,” he said. “I’m confident based on what I know.”
Statement by Ben Dickmann
As a former police officer, police chief and city administrator, I spent an entire career (with support from others) protecting and serving our community by ensuring that the laws are enforced fairly, consistently and equally. The job of law enforcement is to ensure public safety, which is critical to having a healthy region. I became concerned when I heard about the effort to cut funding for law enforcement and public safety departments through a referendum petition drive. I am not against anyone’s right to properly petition the courts. But, on its face, this particular effort already sounded like a bad idea. Then, I read in newspapers and heard conflicting accounts of what the petition claims to accomplish. Moreover, some friends told me that petition circulators were making exaggerated claims about the savings homeowners would receive and false statements about the effect of the referendum on public safety. It is also of some reportedly significant concern as to whether petition circulators have properly followed the law. There are some apparently legitimate questions about the accuracy and validity of signatures. This was very disturbing to me in that a serious matter demands that the procedures set forth by law be followed. Therefore, I decided to more closely determine if the worries I have about this petition drive are warranted.
The first thing that struck me was the small number of petitions that were submitted to the County Clerk. The petition supporters stated publicly that their goal was 17,000 signatures, but they were only able to turn in about 10,000 — almost 7,000 short of their goal. It is clear from the minimal number of signatures that this petition drive was less than popular. It seems obvious that most citizens do not support this effort to cut public safety services. Because of this low number, I was curious if circulators may have intentionally or unintentionally inflated their numbers in order to get to the number required by law.
Assisted by friends in whom I have great confidence, a thorough review of all of the petitions was performed. It looks as though my concerns were, indeed, justified. Based on a full review of all signatures submitted, it appears that supporters of this petition submitted nearly 3,000 invalid signatures. This number represents almost 30 percent of the total amount they filed. Maybe it is my suspicious nature, but I cannot avoid believing that one or more persons were party to an effort to violate election law. By essentially “stuffing the ballot box” and submitting thousands of invalid signatures, the supporters of this petition drive have seemingly attempted to fraudulently mislead the public into thinking that their anti-law enforcement efforts had the support of the public and should be submitted to a vote. Clearly, this level of support as claimed is not the case and I feel we can now prove it.
I have given many years of my life to protecting and serving the public. I have always admired their dedication and worked well with the sheriffs, the deputies, the prosecutors, the emergency management personnel and the respective staffs. I feel it is my duty to challenge any effort to weaken the support our many communities receive from Madison County. Election laws exist to protect the public from fraud and dishonesty and to preserve the integrity of our democratic process. These laws must apply to everyone equally — including the supporters of this anti-public safety petition. That is why I am challenging these petitions. I am respectfully calling on the Board of Elections to conduct a full review of these flawed petitions to determine whether or not the laws were followed or if, as I fear, fraud has been committed by one or more persons.
Bennett W. Dickmann