County board candidate hopeful thwarted by boundary error
O’FALLON – Rachel Renner of O’Fallon had hoped to run for the County Board District 18 seat as a Democrat in this November’s election, but learned that due to an error in the County Clerk’s office, her political aspirations, at least for now, will have to remain on hold.
Renner was working to be slated to an empty position on the November ballot against republican candidate Matt Smallheer. She collected an appropriate number of signatures required from voters within the district to get her name on the ballot, as well as fill out a variety of other forms and seek approval from party leaders.
When she went to submit her paperwork, officials at the St. Clair County Clerk’s office informed her that her residence at 1441 Simmons Road had been improperly zoned into District 18 since 2012. She was told that her address actually belongs in District 29, a seat currently held by democrat Carol Clark.
“There were no Democrats running [for District 18] and I was going to run and get some new ideas and new people in there,” Renner said.
Renner said that when she went to the county elections office to finalize paperwork in order to run, County Clerk Tom Holbrook informed her that she was not in the “correct district.”
“They just sent out new voter cards telling us that we were in the wrong district,” Renner said.
Margaret Eros, a St. Clair County elections official, informed the Weekly that six addresses on Simmons Road were improperly designated into District 18 and not 29, impacting 15 voters.
Renner said she finds it odd that St. Clair County hadn’t “realized for years” that her street was zoned incorrectly.
“I told [Holbrook] that everything we were voting for – it was for the wrong people for a minimum of five years,” she said.
Renner said that the county clerk’s office couldn’t give a definitive answer about how long her house had been misclassified.
“When I went back to have them put in my paperwork they said somebody had brought it to their attention that we were in the wrong or that it was quoted wrong,” Renner said. “I don’t know how they figured that out all of the sudden.”
Holbrook said that Susan Hines-Wobbe, a precinct committeewoman for the O’Fallon Democrats, brought it to his attention that Renner’s street was misclassified.
“This goes back almost ten years when we did re-districting and that mistake was made back when the last county clerk was here,” Holbrook said. “I believe they said there had been a line moved to accommodate a new subdivision that was being built.”
Holbrook said the misclassification doesn’t happen frequently. He went on to say though that “this does happen,” and that it is something that would occur after census results which can alter precinct boundary lines. In Renner’s case, it happened in 2012.
“Unfortunately for Rachel Renner, it just put her in a different district,” Holbrook said. “The map that we had on the website and that we filed for the state I believe was correct. However, the voting code was wrong on the voting registration for those people. It was for a very small section for that subdivision.”
Holbrook advises voters to carefully check their voter registration cards that arrive in the mail.
“When you get your voting card and you think something is wrong with it, you’re supposed to let us know,” he said. “[The Renners] have received several cards. Of course, the responsibility to get it changed back correctly is mine now. I got it done as soon as I was notified.”
“It didn’t change any taxing districts whatsoever,” Holbrook said.
He added that he also had provided each county board member maps when he took over as Clerk five years ago so they could evaluate to ensure accuracy.
Eros said she recalls other issues arising in 2012 after redistricting affected boundaries.
“Whenever these are brought to our attention, we correct them,” she said. Eros said that an error was found on Election Day in 2012 and corrected that day.
“We were able to do so on that day, even on election day. We had ballots available for the voters… the maps were correct but not on the voter registration side of it.”
There have been two contested races that the impacted voters either have participated in that they shouldn’t have or not participated in that they should have. In 2012, the District 29 seat was sought by incumbent Clark and republican Laurence Cole. Clark defeated Cole 2,200 to 1,941. The improperly zoned residents should have been able to vote in that race, however they voted in the District 18 race which had republican incumbent Craig Hubbard running unopposed.
This past spring, voters in District 18 were given the chance to vote in the Republican Primary Election between Hubbard and Smallheer. Smallheer defeated the sitting board member by 33 votes, 365 to 332. The improperly zoned voters were allowed to vote in that election when they should not have been. It is unknown how many of those voters cast their ballots in the Republican primary and may have impacted the results of that race.
There were also uncontested races in both District 18 and 29 in 2014 and 2016 that the voters either improperly did or did not part take part in.
When asked if any election outcomes could have been affected by the error, even though only 15 voters at this time are currently affected, Eros said she does not know.
“I think because… you can’t really tell what has happened in an election, not knowing how people voted,” Eros said.
Eros’s word of advice to voters is that should they see any discrepancy on their voter registration cards: “inform us.”