URBANA — The incumbent Cunningham Township assessor is looking to have a challenger kicked off the ballot because he says she is deceiving voters by running as an independent candidate.
In November, Laura Sandefur filed as a Democrat to challenge the incumbent Democrat Dan Stebbins for the assessor office in Cunningham Township. Her candidacy would have set up a February primary election between the two, but she withdrew after listing the wrong address on her paperwork.
On Dec. 26, after the filing deadline for party members had long passed — but before the deadline for non-party-affiliated candidates — she submitted new paperwork to run as an independent candidate. Stebbins is now asking an electoral board to kick her off the ballot.
"She's a Democrat trying to run as an independent," Stebbins said.
In his objection to her candidacy, which he filed with the Urbana city clerk's office on Thursday, Stebbins also notes that Sandefur currently serves as an appointed Democrat on the Champaign County Board of Review, and she served as a Democratic precinct committeeman before she resigned that post on the day she filed her petitions to run for township assessor as an independent candidate.
"He's welcome to file that," Sandefur said. "I'm not necessarily running against the Democrats. I'm running against Dan Stebbins."
On Thursday evening, Sandefur said she had yet to be notified of the objection and that she was looking forward to seeing it in writing. Her feeling, though, was that nothing would come of it.
She also said she felt it was the right thing to do to drop out of the Democratic primary election after the "indefensible" clerical error on her original paperwork. She said her intention was not to fool voters.
"I'm sad that the Democrats didn't have a choice regarding the candidate, but I felt withdrawal from the primary was the right thing to do," Sandefur said.
Candidates for elected offices need to collect voters' signatures before their names are printed on ballots. Stebbins is protesting a number of what he believes to be discrepancies in her petitions that could disqualify her from appearing on the April ballot, including her affiliations with the Democratic party and her supporters' political affiliations.
"The biggest one is that she's not really an independent candidate," Stebbins said.
The electoral board will need to be assembled for a formal hearing sometime next week.
Stebbins said his objection is to protect voters and not to secure an unopposed election for himself. He said he would be happy to face off against Sandefur in the April 9 elections if her petitions are found to be adequate.
"We've done so much in the last three years that I think I can use what we've done, my staff and I, to get re-elected," Stebbins said.
He said he hired a new staff at lower pay rates. With that savings, he bought a new computer system for the office and updated property records.
But Sandefur, a five-time appointee to the Board of Review and a licensed real estate appraiser, said Stebbins has a history of over-assessments.
"The township assessor doesn't have it right," Sandefur said.
She said her feeling is based on the complaints that come through the Board of Review and her discussions with other real estate experts.
"It's pretty consistent that there is a pattern of over-assessment in certain neighborhoods," she said.