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Marion County Election Board Holds Second CHS Petition Hearing

By Rob Sussman, WJBD News

Emotions ran high at times during Thursday's Marion County Election Board hearing, where a group challenging a petition asking for a public vote on the Centralia High School Board's $2 Million working cash bond sale faced off against the petitioners, Centralia Businessmen Norm Schuchman and Roger Campbell, for the second time.

The Centralia High School board wants to use the funds generated by the bond sale to pay for improvements to Evers Field or to build a new stadium on the campus of the new high school.  Those gathering the signatures on petitions say they are not for or against the stadium, but feel voters have a right to vote on if they want the property tax they pay for construction of the new high school to be extended two years for the working cash bond. 

The group challenging the petitions includes Centralia residents Sue Williams, Jason Cass, and Karen Brothers, who presented the board with several objections to the petitions during a meeting last month. The group says that hundreds of signatures on the petitions are invalid due to petition signers either not living in the district or not being registered Marion County voters and included line-by-line challenges of each signature they claim to be illegitimate. The group also alleges that hundreds more signatures are invalid due to what they call "unethical" and possibly "illegal" activity on the part of the petition circulators.

"These affidavits provide proof that unethical and possibly illegal behavior took place during the process of collecting signatures on the petitions. Notice we use the phrase 'during the process of collecting signatures' instead of 'during the process of circulating petitions'. This is because a proper circulation did not take place" Williams told the board on Sunday.

The group provided the Electoral Board with several affidavits allegedly proving that petitions were left unattended and that petitions were not circulated by the people who certified them.

Petition filer Campbell says the allegations are offensive.

"I take very deep offense to [the allegation of] illegal activity. If what we have done is illegal behavior, we should be charged. That is a nasty statement. I wouldn't make that to [the opposing group] at all." Campbell said during the meeting.

The petitioning group alleged in their arguments that while several signatures should indeed be invalidated due to either not being registered voters or living out-of-district, the group still has hundreds of signatures above the minimum to bring the issue to a vote. The group even alleged that the voter rolls in the four counties making up Centralia High School have not been calculated correctly, and that thousands of voters supposedly registered within the high school district either no longer live in the district or are registered more than one time. The group utilized statistics derived from US Census data that claim that there are only 12,253 registered voters in the Centralia High School District, meaning that the group would only need 1,225 total signatures minimum, or 10% of registered voters, to bring the issue to a vote, about 200 less than the 1,400 signatures they were told to collect when efforts to circulate petitions began in July.

State's Attorney Matt Wilzbach plans to hold several work sessions with the board in order to go through each of the signature challenges, he said work could take several weeks.

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