Fire District Created in Illinois Despite Ballot Snafu

April 10, 2013
The referendum question was left off some ballots in Murrayville.

April 10--A referendum creating the Murrayville Fire Protection District and approving an increase in property taxes to support it passed despite the matter being left off of the ballots of some eligible voters in Tuesday's consolidated election.

The fire protection district question passed by a margin of 106 to 36, and voters overwhelmingly approved the fire tax, 103 to 37.

Supporters said the vote could have been complicated by a mix-up that left the measure off of the ballots of some eligible voters in the consolidated election.

The proposed district encompassed the same area that the Murrayville Fire Department currently services -- Murrayville and the 55 square miles surrounding the village.

Voters residing in that area were supposed to see two questions on their ballots. The first question asked whether they were for or against the fire protection district. A second question asked for a "yes" or "no" vote on: "Under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, may an aggregate extension not to exceed $90,000 be made for the Murrayville Fire Protection District for the 2013 levy year?"

Both questions had to pass by a majority vote for the fire protection district to be established.

"The only people that have it on their ballots are the people in town," Murrayville Fire Chief John Sonneborn told the Journal-Courier Tuesday morning. "The people in the rural area did not have it printed on theirs and that is not the way it is to be done."

After finding out about the problem, Sonneborn said he called James Sinclair, an attorney in Alton who has been working with the fire department in the formation of a fire protection district. Sinclair then called Morgan County Clerk Jill Waggener.

Waggener was able to verify around 1 p.m. what the problem with the ballots was.

"It appears it was a software problem. For some reason it pulled out the question for the residents of the village, but not for (the other eligible voters)," Waggener said.

Waggener then checked with the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Morgan County state's attorney and her election vendor, Governmental Business Systems, about how to proceed to correct it.

Waggener said she decided to provide special ballots with just the two questions concerning the proposed fire protection district for voters in the Murrayville and Nortonville precincts who had the measure omitted from their original ballots.

Waggener also obtained the names of people who voted prior to the delivery of the special ballots around 2 p.m. to the polling place for the two precincts: the American Legion hall in Murrayville. Members of her staff then telephoned those voters to offer them the option of returning before the polls closed at 7 p.m. to vote on the referendum using the special ballots.

"So no one will be disenfranchised from voting on this question," Waggener said.

"It's about the only thing that can be done under the circumstances and will give everybody an opportunity to vote on the question, which is the whole purpose of a referendum," Sinclair said.

Waggener apologized for any inconvenience.

"Fortunately, we caught it," Waggener said. "I'm trying my best to do what I feel is right to give everyone the opportunity to vote on it. Had somebody who voted on it at 6 or 6:30 or 7 this morning contacted me, we could have been on it then instead of at 2 o'clock in the afternoon."

Copyright 2013 - Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill.

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