Shaw Local

DuPage judge intervenes in 45th House District vote count

Jenn Ladisch Douglass, left, and Deanne Mazzochi are candidates for the 45th state House District seat.

DuPage County election workers will be prohibited from using vote-by-mail applications to verify signatures on mail-in ballots still to be counted, a judge ruled Nov. 15.

On Nov. 14, state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi filed a lawsuit against DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek, claiming her office was improperly verifying signatures on mail-in ballots. The lawsuit comes as Mazzochi, an Elmhurst Republican, remains in a neck-and-neck race for the 45th District seat against Democrat Jenn Ladisch Douglass.

Mazzochi argues in the suit that the state Election Code requires signatures on mail-in ballots be verified by using a person’s most recent voter registration record. However, Mazzochi’s lawsuit claims, the county clerk’s office hasn’t been complying with the statute.

“At least three individuals, including Mazzochi herself, have witnessed the verification of mail-in ballots that have signatures that do not match the voter’s registration record, where election officials subsequently ‘verify’ the signature by comparing it to the signature that appears on the mail-in ballot application,” according to the lawsuit.

On Nov. 15, Judge James Orel granted Mazzochi’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting the clerk’s office “from using any signature on a vote-by-mail application in connection with validating signatures.” In explaining the rationale for his ruling, the judge said use of a vote-by-mail application to validate signatures on the vote-by-mail ballot itself “would be an obvious way to commit ballot fraud.”

“Consequently, the ruling ... benefits both candidates, as well as the DuPage County Clerk’s Office, who is obligated to follow the statute,” Orel wrote in the order. The judge also rejected a motion filed by the clerk’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit.

As of early afternoon Nov. 15, unofficial results in Cook and DuPage counties showed Ladisch Douglass, an attorney from Elmhurst, was leading Mazzochi by 341 votes. The tallies reported so far don’t account for outstanding mail-in ballots.

“While the clerk’s improper procedures have already damaged the process, I will continue to fight for ensuring it is one conducted with integrity,” Mazzochi, an attorney, said in a written statement after the judge’s decision. “Voting by mail cannot work without stringent protections and secure procedures to ensure that a voter’s identity is not stolen. The court’s order will now protect voters for the remainder of this election and tabulation process.”

Patrick Bond, an attorney representing the clerk’s office, deferred questions to Kaczmarek, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the Nov. 15 hearing, Bond objected to Mazzochi’s request for the temporary restraining order. He argued the judge does not have the authority to intervene while ballots are still being counted. He said Mazzochi could challenge the outcome of the election once the clerk certified the results.

Mail-in votes were to be counted through Nov. 22 as long as the ballots were postmarked by Nov. 8.

Mazzochi ran for the 45th District seat after she was drawn out of her current district.