THE ISSUE: Streator High student taken off April ballot
OUR VIEW: Bad break comes with tough lesson
Earlier this week, the La Salle County Electoral Board decided to remove Richard "Hank" Tutoky's name in the Streator High School Board race from the April ballot.
Tutoky, a Streator High School student, met the requirements to run. He will be 18 by election day, he's a registered voter and after objections, still met the required amount of signatures to run for office.
He, however, signed nomination paperwork he received from the Streator High office stating he was 18 years old or older at the time he collected signatures. He'll turn 18 by election day, but for now he's still 17, he confirmed.
Updated paperwork should have been circulated, according to the electoral board, with more appropriate wording, stating the candidate verify they are 17 and turning 18 by election day. The high school circulated what they received from the La Salle County Clerk's office.
If the correct paperwork was circulated, Tutoky would have remained on the ballot.
With that said, it's hard to fault the electoral board for its ruling. Tutoky signed a legal document. As La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly stated during the hearing, the fact his signature would verify something that was inaccurate at the time should have raised a red flag with him. But how would he know there was a more up-to-date document out there?
That's a tough break for a 17-year-old.
His first taste of local politics is getting tossed off the ballot based on a technicality. He won't be the first, nor will he be the last.
In January 2017, Jim Thrush, an independent road commissioner candidate for Ottawa Township, was not allowed on the ballot after technical problems were identified with his petition, notably it was incorrectly fastened and pages weren't numbered. In that case, the township's electoral board made the decision.
In many ways, these technical disqualifications dishearten folks from participating in the democratic process.
Donnelly commended Tutoky's interest in local government and tried to make the hearing a teachable moment for him, and others who may face objections.
"I do suggest that anybody who runs for office look at the State Board of Elections page and follow their procedures step-by-step; they have the most current forms on there."
In some ways, filing nomination paperwork accurately is a first test for local government. The objectioner Jim Parr made the argument the signature he provides in his role as a board member holds him accountable for whatever he signs. This is true, and Tutoky's situation is a great reminder of it.
It's much more disheartening to hear Parr after the hearing say his main motivation was to prevent a conflict of interest on the board because he’d be a student for a few weeks between the election and graduation, stating that arrangement would damage the board’s integrity— a matter he wasn't even allowed to bring up during the hearing.
That’s hard to swallow. Individual board members of any age shouldn’t have sway over daily doings of teachers and students, and the question of an aspiring board member’s ethics is best left to voters and not one incumbent. The law allows someone in Tutoky’s position to run — he could recuse himself from any controversial votes in those few overlapping days — and it seems insincere to use a technicality to keep him off the ballot while saying a different quirk that allows him to serve is improper.
The state has already determined it is OK for a high school student who has turned 18 to serve on their school board. Whether it is too great of a conflict or not should be settled by the district's voters.
It's important for us to point out, this matter likely is not over. There are options for Tutoky to appeal through the court system, and even though he gave no official comment after the hearing, his attorney's comments would lead us to believe there may be an appeal coming.
We are interested to follow it as it may set a precedent for future situations.
Regardless, we encourage Tutoky and others in the district not to get discouraged, and take this tough break as a lesson of the heightened scrutiny taking a public office may bring.