Local county clerks say early ballots, mail-in ballots unaffected — for now — by Cook County judge’s ruling

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during his visit to the Adams County Fairgrounds in June 2022. | File photo for Muddy River News by Aaron Beaston

QUINCY — Former President Donald Trump’s name remains on the Republican ballot for the March 19 primary for now, and votes already cast for him through early ballots and mail-in ballots are unaffected.

But stay tuned.

Adams County Clerk Ryan Niekamp said Thursday no changes have been made to the primary ballot in the wake of Cook County Judge Tracy Porter’s order on Wednesday to remove Trump’s name from the primary ballot

However, Porter clarified her ruling on Thursday, staying her order until an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is “full and finally” resolved by the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, the Illinois Supreme court and/or the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Anyone who has already voted early in person or done vote by mail, they don’t need to take any further steps at this time,” Niekamp said. “Because the judge’s order was a stay order, it doesn’t take effect until a higher court makes its ruling.”

Natalie Roseberry, clerk/recorder in Pike County, sent a press release Thursday afternoon echoing Niekamp’s thoughts.

“Anyone who has already participated in in-person early voting or vote-by-mail does not need to take any action at this time,” she wrote.

Niekamp said he heard from a handful of people on Thursday asking about the status of their early votes. He said the Illinois State Board of Elections, which certifies elections in the state, has not given guidance to county clerks state-wide about what might happen next. 

“We have to take direction from them,” he said. “Then after their direction, we’d go through our legal process here and take whatever proper actions need to be taken at that time — if that happens.”

If Trump eventually is taken off the ballot, Niekamp believes one of two outcomes are likely.

“One outcome could be that we basically start the election all over again and reprint all the ballots,” he said. “Everything is basically scrapped, and we’re starting from ground zero again. The second option is we continue as though we’re moving forward. His name would remain on the ballot, but the election would not be certified at that point.”

Niekamp believes the option of re-starting the election process would be difficult to do.

“Looking at the timelines here, the election is here in a couple of weeks,” he said. “By time definition alone, that almost is going to eliminate the first option. I mean, we’re ready to go. We got everything tested. Everything is printed. We’ve been in the early voting stages. We’ve had mail-in votes come in and early votes come in, and that’s a lot of work. Doing all of that again is pretty much an impossible scenario.”

In a lengthy decision, Porter said the Illinois State Board of Elections reached the wrong conclusion last month when it rejected a petition by five Illinois voters who objected to Trump’s candidacy. The objectors claimed Trump’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol amounted to an “insurrection” and, thus, disqualified him under the 14th Amendment.

“Judge Porter’s reasoned decision contributes to the growing consensus of courts recognizing and condemning Trump’s decisive role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol,” Caryn Lederer, lead attorney for the objectors, said Wednesday. “The decision recognizes the importance of rule of law and upholding the mandate of the U.S. Constitution.”

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung issued a statement saying the campaign would appeal the decision, which he called “unconstitutional.”

“(Wednesday), an activist Democrat judge in Illinois summarily overruled the state’s board of elections and contradicted earlier decisions from dozens of other state and federal jurisdictions,” he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing a similar challenge to Trump’s candidacy in Colorado. The high court heard oral arguments in that case on Feb. 8 but has not yet issued a decision.

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