Paper clip concern: Lee County resident files objections to candidate filings

Decision to be made this month on whether the bundles were bungled

Michael Koppien takes the stand Friday, April 1, 2022 during a challenge to his petition to run for Lee County board.

DIXON – Three Lee County Board members running for re-election are facing objections to their candidate petitions because they were bound by paper clip.

It’s the first time in several years that a County Board candidate’s petition has been called into question. In general, objections are usually made against the validity of signatures or the manner they were gathered.

Dixon resident Jennifer Lawson is saying that County Board District 1 Republican incumbents Mike Koppien, Chris Norberg and Jim Schielein should be stricken from the June 28 primary ballot because their nomination papers were put together using paper clips. Lawson is a District 1 resident.

Jennifer Lawson (right) and attorney Kylee Miller argue the petitions submitted by Koppien for placement on the ballot were not properly bundled.

The Illinois Election Code doesn’t specify how petitions should be bound – by paper clip, staple, rubber band, envelope or other form of office supplies – but it requires that they are fastened together in book form with numbered, consecutive pages that cannot be pulled apart or rearranged at will.

The county’s electoral board by statute is made of the county clerk, circuit clerk and state’s attorney, and the group met last week to establish rules and procedures on how to address the complaints. They decided to go with a hearing officer process and hired local attorney Tim Zollinger to oversee testimony, evidence and statements for the three objection hearings, which took place Friday at the old Lee County Courthouse.

Attorney Tim Zollinger designated by the County Officers Electoral Board conducts an election challenge hearing Friday, April 1, 2022 in Lee County. Jennifer Lawson is challenging the nomination papers for Mike Koppien, Chris Norberg and Jim Schielein for the Lee County Board.

Attorney Kylee Miller, representing Lawson, argued that the only relevant fact for the objections is that the papers were bound by paper clip and that it is not sufficient binding.

The members filed their five-page packets by paper clip on March 7, and a receipt for the documents was added to each one.

Deputy County Clerk Deb Phillips testified that a paper clip was sufficient to bind the papers. When candidates pick up their blank packets, they are bound by paper clip as well.

Miller said that although it is regular practice for the county, using a paper clip is not sufficient.

It couldn’t be tested whether pages could be removed without removing the paper clip because doing so would constitute altering the packet, which Zollinger wouldn’t allow.

Michael Koppien takes the stand Friday, April 1, 2022 during a challenge to his petition to run for Lee County board.

Miller said the binding is “not a trivial or nitpicking requirement” and it is in place to protect the integrity of the paperwork against fraud.

Representing Koppien, Norberg and Schielein was Dixon attorney Courtney Kennedy, who said they each used large, ribbed paper clips to properly fasten the pages, and the objector has not met her burden of proof to say otherwise.

A paper clip is a sufficient and adequate use, she said.

The three hearings were held consecutively and each lasted a bit less than half an hour.

The next step is for Zollinger to file a report with his recommendations that will likely be finished by the end of next week. There will be a two-week period if either side wants to file an exception. The electoral board will then have the final say.

It will be a tight turnaround because the county must certify the primary ballot by April 27.

Last year, Lawson, who’s an environmental engineer, spoke against the proposed 3,838-acre South Dixon Solar development as a neighbor of the project with concerns that included cutting off future development, how tying up the land for 40 years shouldn’t be considered a temporary use, the effect on tourism, and whether transmission lines would be able to handle the project.

The project was ultimately approved by the County Board in December and will span across a large footprint south of the industrial park on state Route 26.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.