Decision sets stage for Holderfield-Winkel showdown in primary
URBANA — Champaign County's electoral board voted unanimously Friday to keep Stephanie Holderfield's name on the March 20 Republican primary election ballot, making it more likely there will be an intraparty showdown with former Sen. Rick Winkel over the office of circuit court clerk.
Although the electoral board's decision can be appealed to the circuit court, time is running short. The first primary election ballots — to overseas and military voters — must go in the mail by Feb. 3, according to Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten, who also is chair of the electoral board.
Asked if a final court decision on the case could be reached that quickly, Deborah Frank Feinen, who represented her father Steve Frank in trying to remove Holderfield from the ballot, said, "Probably not, although we may have a circuit court ruling by then. But I don't know if we're going to appeal."
Frank sought to toss Holderfield, currently a county board member from Mahomet, off the ballot because she had signed a petition for Ben Carlson, a Democratic candidate for county auditor. Frank claimed that by signing a Democrat's petition, Holderfield invalidated her own candidacy as a Republican.
But the electoral board, citing a 1984 state appellate court decision, ruled that the first petition Holderfield signed — one for a number of countywide Republican candidates, including Hulten — is valid and that any subsequent petition signatures are invalid.
Holderfield signed the Republican candidates' petition on Sept. 11 and Carlson's on either Oct. 8 or 22.
"The September 11th signature trumps the October 8th or 22nd signature," said State's Attorney Julia Rietz, another electoral board member. "And when Stephanie Holderfield declared herself to be a Republican on September 11th, she was declaring to be a Republican."
The third electoral board member, Sandy Romans, a supervisor in the circuit clerk's office, did not comment on the case but voted to keep Holderfield on the ballot.
Rietz also said the board needed to recognize court rulings in favor of offering voters a choice, saying that disqualifying Holderfield "would unreasonably restrict people's right to endorse and nominate candidates" they support.
"I find it very important to look at the fact that 315 people signed a petition for Stephanie Holderfield to be on the ballot, and that process is important," she said. "In this case if we're not mindful of that then we won't be mindful of qualified voters in the Republican Party who signed her nominating petitions."
Hulten, however, chided Holderfield for allowing her petitions to be signed by some of the same Democrats who signed Carlson's petitions. Electoral board members said at least five people signed both candidate's petitions.
"I think it's absolutely clear that you violated the statute," Hulten told Holderfield. "The brazenness of it bothers me."
Hulten asserted that Holderfield sought Democratic petition-signers "knowingly, willingly and wantonly."
"The fact that you sought signatures with people from the opposite political party in the same room from the same people defies common sense to me, and it greatly disturbs me that it was done and that it was doe so cavalierly," Hulten said. "
Holderfield, however, said she was "thrilled" with the decision.
"I think we had a very good, substantive case to support the fact that I had no intention of harming the electoral process. That wasn't my goal," she said. "I've been campaigning since before Christmas. This just gives me the opportunity to hit it even harder."
Winkel was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon.
The current circuit court clerk — Linda Frank, who is the ex-wife of Steve Frank and mother of Deborah Frank Feinen — is not running for another term.
During Friday's electoral board hearing, held at the Champaign County Courthouse, Hulten said Champaign County "is a big small town and politically it's an even smaller town." Hulten managed Winkel's last election campaign for the state Senate, Romans is an assistant to Frank and Rietz is a member of the local Democrats' central committee.