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County OKs judicial subcircuit advisory referendum this fall

An advisory referendum on the Illinois General Assembly’s creation of judicial subcircuits in Madison County was overwhelmingly approved by the County Board at Wednesday’s meeting for the Nov. 8 ballot.

The decision came a day before the Illinois 4th District Appellate Court rejected an appeal of a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the law.

On Wednesday, the Madison County Board’s resolution was approved 23-2, with Chris Hankins, D-Pontoon Beach, and Victor Valentine Jr., D-Edwardsville, voting no. Three members were absent.

State’s Attorney Tom Haine had introduced the referendum at the July 1 Judiciary Committee meeting. At the time he said it would have no binding effect, but “allows people to voice an opinion.

“Last night’s 23-2 vote shows that Madison County continues to stand united against this unfair and unwise judicial gerrymandering scheme,” Haine said in a written statement Thursday. “I’m glad that as we continue to fight this law in the court system, the citizens of Madison County will also be able to register their support for judicial fairness at the ballot box.”

Mike Walters, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, echoed Haine.

“How Springfield insiders could think they could blatantly gerrymander Madison County’s judiciary without a severe public backlash is beyond me,” he said. “We rely on fair judges. We want judges elected by all citizens in Madison County, not just a chosen group. The county board spoke with a near-unanimous voice approving this referendum. Now all citizens will have an opportunity on Nov. 8 to help take a stand against unfair judicial gerrymandering.”

The referendum reads: “Should all Madison County voters have the right to vote for each Madison County Circuit Judge, instead of only being allowed to vote if they reside in a politically-gerrymandered subcircuit of the county created by the General Assembly in Springfield?”

It is in response to the passage and signing of a law modifying judicial subcircuits in Cook County, and creating subcircuits in some downstate counties, including Madison County.

While the law does not impact other judicial circuits until the 2024 election cycle, it singles out Madison County for implementation in the 2022 election cycle. The primary, including three 3rd Circuit Judicial races, was held Tuesday.

Voters in the first subcircuit voted on three races. Judicial candidates in four primary races were unopposed, and candidates in the other two, both Democrats, ran as write-ins. The unopposed candidates will appear on the ballot in November, the two write-ins must wait until the results are officially counted to see if they received enough votes to qualify for the ballot.

It also sets up a system where the first three judges elected must come from one subcircuit, which is heavily democratic; then the next three from a second subcircuit, which is split. According to county officials, the third subcircuit, more heavily Republican, will only have two judges and voters might not be able to vote for a judicial race for approximately 10 years.

At this time there are three 3rd Circuit judicial races set for the November ballot.

Republican Circuit Judge Christopher Threlkeld and former Democratic Associate Judge Barry Julian are vying for the seat created by the elevation of Circuit Judge David Dugan to the federal court; Republican Circuit Judge Amy E. Sholar and Alton-based attorney Ebony Huddleston, a Democrat, are seeking the seat vacated by retired Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli; and Associate Judge Ryan Jumper, a Democrat, and Republican attorney Tim Berkley are competing for the seat being vacated by Chief Circuit Judge William Mudge, who is retiring at the end of this term.

Julian and Huddleston ran as write-ins after being thrown off the primary ballot, and the official vote canvass completed Monday confirmed their spots on the Nov. 8 ballot.

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