URBANA — The request to remove a Republican candidate for Champaign County circuit court clerk has been continued to Jan. 6 by the county's three-member electoral board.
Steve Frank, a Fisher attorney, has asked the board to scrub Stephanie Holderfield's name from the March 20 primary election ballot because she signed a petition for a Democratic candidate for auditor, Ben Carlson. Frank contends that Holderfield broke state law by signing petitions for candidates for two separate political parties. Doing so, he claims, invalidates her nominating petitions.
The electoral board is made up of County Clerk Gordy Hulten, State's Attorney Julia Rietz and Sandy Romans, a supervisor in the office of current Circuit Clerk Linda Frank, who removed herself from the board. Linda Frank is the ex-wife of Steve Frank and also is publicly supporting Holderfield's primary election opponent, Rick Winkel.
During a short meeting Friday at the Champaign County Courthouse, the electoral board asked both sides in the case to prepare to argue the disputed issues, including Steve Frank's contention that Holderfield committed fraud by declaring herself a qualified voter of each party. The attorneys for both sides — Gerald Smith for Holderfield and Deborah Frank Feinen for Steve Frank — also were asked to prepare to argue Holderfield's intent in signing the petitions.
Holderfield has stated that soon after signing Carlson's petition, she realized she had made a mistake and asked him to "cross my name off."
"He evidently got sidetracked and didn't get it done," she said.
Carlson, however, released a statement Friday saying that "(n)o one asked us to remove any signature before filing our petitions."
And Feinen argued that the State Board of Elections would have allowed Holderfield to file a request with the county clerk to have her name stricken from Carlson's petitions. The electoral board did not consider her point.
"Perhaps this really is a question for evidence," Rietz said.
One issue the electoral board did address was Smith's request that Hulten and Romans recuse themselves from the case.
He asserted that Hulten "has a history of working with Mr. Rick Winkel, and actually was his campaign manager at one particular time (when Winkel ran for state Senate in 2002). Therefore we believe there is a strong bias and that that bias would affect" Hulten's impartiality.
Smith also requested that no one in either Hulten's or Linda Frank's office be allowed to serve on the electoral board, and that the two seats be filled by the sheriff and county treasurer.
Feinen objected to the recusal request, and Hulten, who chairs the electoral board, overruled Smith's request.
"Neither the statutes nor case law supports recusal for alleged bias by electoral board members," he said.
The electoral board is operating with a relatively short window, given that Hulten has to mail out ballots to voters overseas voters by Feb. 3, and is allowed to begin creating ballots on Jan. 13.
"We want to get this done right and fast, second," he said. "We're not trying to rush anybody, though."
Any decision by the electoral board can be appealed to the courts.