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Thomas sues to strike Peoria County auditor referendum from November ballot

Tim Shelley
Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas reads prepared remarks off her phone before the Peoria County Board at its Aug. 11, 2022 meeting, ahead of the board's 15-2 vote to send elimination of her office to a November referendum for the second time in four years.

Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas is suing to remove the question about the future of her office from the November ballot.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in Peoria County, Thomas and citizen Karrie Alms allege the ballot resolution was illegally filed with the Election Commission four days after the statutory deadline.

For full disclosure, Thomas is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board. That body has no role in or oversight of newsroom decisions.

Peoria County voters narrowly voted in 2018 to keep the elected auditor's office. The county board moved this summer to introduce a second referendum in the upcoming November election, again asking voters to eliminate the office. This comes several months after the county board voted to slash the budget of the elected auditor's office down to a single employee.

A resolution from the county board's executive committee asks voters if the office of internal county auditor should be eliminated effective Dec. 1, 202, because the county already has an external auditor per state law.

That language was stamped as filed with the Peoria County Clerk's Office on Aug. 19, and filed with Peoria County Election Commission by the Aug. 22 statutory deadline for the county board to adopt a resolution with the referendum language. That's per a form signed by election commission executive director Elizabeth Gannon included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

But the language on the Peoria County sample ballot removes the Dec. 1, 2024 elimination date and adds a claim that eliminating the elected auditor's position saves the county $150,000 a year.

That language is sourced from a second executive committee resolution, also stamped Aug. 19 by the county clerk, but not dated and signed by Gannon until 4:28 p.m. on Aug. 26. A handwritten note on the resolution notes the updated language is "nunc pro tunc for Aug. 22, 2022 at 2:10 p.m."

Nunc pro tunc is a legal term meaning the resolution has a retroactive legal effect, in this case dating back to before the statutory deadline for the county board to file the referendum language with the election commission. Thomas claims the commission has no authority to accept a tardy filing on the basis of a nunc pro tunc order.

The lawsuit says the county claims the resolution dated Aug. 22 by Gannon was never voted on. But Thomas said there's nothing indicating the resolution filed Aug. 22 is invalid in any way. She claims that means even if the Aug. 26 language were to stand, the election commission also would be obligated to place the Aug. 22 language on the ballot — a situation which would create "impermissible confusion" for voters.

Thomas also says the ballot language asking voters to eliminate her office because it would save $150,000 is slanted, in violation of the law requiring "free and equal" elections. That includes spending public funds to urge voters to cast a ballot for or against a ballot question.

The auditor is seeking an permanent injunction preventing the referendum from being conducted on Nov. 8.

The Peoria County Election Commission's executive director declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

The case currently isn't scheduled to appear before a Peoria County judge until Feb. 27, 2023 — well after the election.

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A copy of the resolution stamped Aug. 19 by the county clerk's office and dated Aug. 22 by Peoria County Election Commission executive director Elizabeth Gannon.
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The resolution dated Aug. 26 by Peoria County Election Commission executive director Elizabeth Gannon, with a handwritten note claiming it is pro non tunc for Aug. 22, before the statutory deadline for the county board to adopt the referendum language.
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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.