A federal appeals court is weighing whether to overturn a 2007 alderman’s race, and the decision could force another election for Chicago's 25th Ward seat.
The case hinges on whether the Chicago Board of Elections mishandled 178 ballots cast for former alderman Ambrosio Medrano, who lost to incumbent Danny Solis in a tight race.
Four days before the Feb. 27 election, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Medrano was ineligible to run because he had been convicted of felony extortion arising out of misconduct in office, according to court records.
Solis, who has represented the 25th Ward since 1996, won by 1.39 percent of the vote after the election board threw out Medrano's votes and 24 write-in ballots.
In the wake of that decision, several voters sought to change their ballots from disqualified Medrano to another candidate.
“They didn’t give me my constitutional right to vote,” says Arthur Parra, the lead plaintiff in the case.
Without Medrano's disqualification, Solis would have earned 49.95 percent of the vote --not enough to avoid a runoff with second-place contender Cuahutemoc Morfin.
Attorneys for the board say they were following orders from the Illinois Supreme Court, which allowed them to disregard votes for Medrano if officials did not have time to redraw ballots.
But plaintiffs attorneys argue that the board did have time to change the ballots, and further, that it could have postponed the election.
After the Supreme Court disqualified Medrano, Parra says, he planned to vote for Morfin. Medrano threw his support behind the candidate after the high court's decision.
But Parra says he could not vote for Morfin because the election board stopped him from voting on Election Day after he cast an earlier ballot for Medrano.
Attorneys for the board say their hands were tied by the state Supreme Court's decision.
"If we violated that order we would’ve been in contempt of court," board attorney Jim Scanlon says. "We had a duty not to count those votes."
Still, Adolfo Mondragon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says that the election board overstepped its authority. He points to the "indifference" and "callousness" of public officials, arguing that they disenfranchised voters in a potentially fraudulent scheme.
"What we're arguing is that the integrity of the election itself has been undermined," Mondragon says.
Plaintiffs' attorney Nicholas Kefalos says that slender margin is at the heart of the case.
"They certified an election that was not a true account of the votes," Kefalos says.
If the court rules to overturn the election results, Solis would need to defend his seat in a new contest.
Mondragon says judges would need to rule on who could run against Solis — for example, whether they would allow only the same candidates who ran in 2007 — but that Morfin would be a likely contender.