Editorial | Challenging challenges

Editorial | Challenging challenges

Political gamesmanship between the local political parties is driven by their desire to cut voters out of the democratic process.

The big fight between Champaign County Republicans and Democrats will be held on Nov. 6, the date of this year's general election.

But Democrats and Republicans gave the public a sign of what's to come when they faced off this week in a political skirmish of challenges each party filed against the other.

The forum was a meeting of the county's three-member electoral board, which decides petition challenges as a prelude to taking the issue to the courts for resolution.

The board is made up of the county clerk, the circuit clerk and the state's attorney, in this case Gordy Hulten, Katie Blakeman and first assistant state's attorney Steve Ziegler, sitting in for his boss, Julia Rietz.

The subject of dispute were challenges to one Republican county board candidate P.J. Trautman (District 6) and two Democratic board candidates Chris Stohr (District 10) and Charles Young (District 6).

But that wasn't just what the dispute was about.

Democrats cried foul over what they described as the political bias of Hulten, a Republican, in favor of GOP candidate Trautman, and insisted that he should recuse himself.

Local Democrats, as they usually do, employed apocalyptic rhetoric to characterize Hulten's presence as a decision-maker.

"Hulten's blatant disregard for election law, ethics and his public endorsement of Trautman make it unacceptable for him to serve on the election board. He must recuse himself from this hearing," said Democratic Party Chairwoman Maryam Ar-Raheem.

Democrats also sent out a message urging their supporters to show up at the meeting so board members would "feel the pressure to adhere to the law and not follow illegal and incorrect guidance from Hulten."

Unfortunately for the Democrats, they had nothing other than moral outrage to provide as justification for Hulten to step down, and that's not enough.

Alleged partisanship is not sufficient grounds for removal. Indeed, if it was, it's hard to see how a three-member board made up of elected political officials or their representatives could effectively function. The presence of partisans is baked, by law, into the process, although that does not mean the board's decision are — or should be — politically motivated.

Indeed, Rietz, the sole Democrat on the three-member board, said Hulten is on solid legal ground in remaining on the board despite the protest.

So why all the sound and fury that signified nothing? Well, that seems to be the style these days, despite all the complaints about a lack of civility in civic affairs.

Ultimately, the board deferred a decision on the three challenges.

Republicans challenged the petitions submitted by Stohr and Young on the nitpicky grounds they were not submitted in a timely manner. Democrats challenged Trautman because he's running as a Republican, even though he voted in the Democratic primary, an arguable, but still marginal, claim.

Petition challenges, in most cases, are an ugly business that represent party effort to win an election in advance by knocking an opponent off the ballot with some technical claim and running unopposed.

That approach shortchanges the voters, who are supposed to have the final word on who wins elections. That reality is why the courts have increasingly given more and more latitude to candidates whose petitions contain minor errors that don't amount to a hill of beans.

Remember, the rules on which challenges are based were put in place by the permanent political class to make it hard for political newcomers to find their way into the political arena.

To put it simply, they don't want nobody nobody sent, to borrow a popular political phrase characterizing the insularity of the debased politics in this state.

Both sides would be well advised to drop their challenges and let the voters work it out. If they decline to do so, the electoral board would best serve the public by taking a forgiving attitude toward these challenges.

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