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Pro Bono Efforts Ensure Effect of Voter Referendum

11 May 2007
Mayer Brown Article
The Chicago Edgewater community was finally able to put into effect a "vote dry" that had been approved by a referendum vote in 2003, thanks to the efforts of Chicago counsel Patricia Sharkey. The vote dry prohibited the sale of alcohol in the community, except for incidental restaurant sales, and was intended to counteract crime and increasing problems due to public drunkenness, drug dealing, and prostitution that circled around the neighborhood's two liquor stores. The effect of the successful referendum was delayed for four years as result of lawsuits filed by the liquor stores.

The first suit sought to revoke the signatures of the petition signers in order to keep the referendum off the ballot. The circuit court threw out many of the petition signatures because they "looked different" than the signature on the signers' voter cards. A stay was granted that allowed the referendum to stay on the ballot, and the community voted in favor of the vote dry. After a three-year battle, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the revocations were invalid, and the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the liquor stores' petition for certiorari.

The second lawsuit, which had been filed within 10 days of the vote, sought to invalidate the election due to minor errors in the Chinese translation of the vote dry proposition. Again, the circuit court ruled in favor of the liquor stores, holding the election invalid due solely to the transposition of ward and precinct numbers in the Chinese translation.

The matter went to the Illinois Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that the ballot met the standard of "substantial compliance" with the statutory requirements for a liquor referendum ballot, despite the minor translation error. This is a finding with important implications for future lections of all kinds in which minor translation errors could be used by losing candidates to delay and foil the will of the voters.

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