By Nona Tepper
After being knocked off the ballot in February, Stephanie Joy Jackson-Rowe is still running as a write-in candidate for Cook County Clerk. She's asking voters to write her in as "Joy-Jackson."
The River Forest woman said she filed some 510 petitions containing more than 9,800 signatures in late 2017, after longtime incumbent David Orr announced he was retiring after 27 years. But a successful objection by Maywood resident Reginald Lamont Featherston Sr. knocked her off the March primary ballot after he claimed petition signatures were invalid and raised concerns about places of residence. "Mr. Featherston is the go-to objector in Maywood, Proviso for years and years and years; this is just his job, objecting for the Democratic machine or whoever is paying him to object. I guess he works for Karen Yarbrough," Jackson-Rowe said.
Featherston Sr. is a Proviso Township employee, according to a recent article in the Village Free Press. He has filed several objections to candidates recently, most of whom represent a challenge to the Maywood United Party. The United Party's ticket includes Henderson Yarbrough, a Maywood village trustee, who is married to Karen Yarbrough, Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Jackson-Rowe would have faced Karen Yarbrough in the crowded primary election for Cook County Clerk. She claims that Featherston Sr., acting on behalf of Yarbrough, used services from a site called PetitionReview.com to issue his challenge. "They used a computerized system that they purchased and got the rights to use a private computer vendor who somehow, illegally, got hold of the Illinois voter registration database and sells it to incumbents first," Jackson-Rowe said.
But the developer of PetitionReview.com said the site is based on 2014 voter information he had access to as a campaign volunteer. Thomas Greenhaw, who ran unsuccessfully for commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in 2016, said he doesn't advertise the service and only offers PetitionReview to candidates "who I believe will do a good job in office" as a way for them check their opponents' petition signatures quickly. He declined to comment on whether Yarbrough's campaign used his service.
"It is a disturbingly common tactic to file an overwhelming amount of forged, fake and fraudulent signatures on a candidate's petition. It's done in the hope of making it too difficult to review them all in the very short time period that the signatures can be contested," Greenhaw wrote to the Wednesday Journal in an email. "The PetitionReview software helps campaigns and their volunteers review petition signatures much faster to help them object to these fraudulent petition signatures."
The Illinois State Board of Elections also makes records from the Illinois voter registration database available for a fee to registered political committees for "bonafide political purposes."
Meanwhile, Jackson-Rowe said she spent seven days at the Chicago Election Board office defending her signatures.
"One guy can't read or spell English well, one person's brand new, never checked signatures before, another's a veteran" who refused to accurately look up petitions, Jackson-Rowe said, later adding: "People were amazed at the subjectivity and the fact that these people could care less, nothing was done consistently, so we knew we were going to lose with this kind of process."
Attorney Jan Kowalski McDonald and Nick Shields, Orr's director of communications, also threw their names in the ring for clerk. Shields later withdrew from the race. Kowalski McDonald's name is currently printed on the ballot, as she has appealed a decision by the Cook County Electoral Board that found her signatures invalid. Her hearing is scheduled for March 7, a spokesman for the Cook County Clerk wrote in an email. Featherston Sr. has also challenged Kowalski McDonald's signatures.
"If you want somebody progressive, proactive, concerned about cyber integrity who makes sure our elections are safe, free and clear, and continues David Orr's quest to register more people to vote, I'm your girl," Jackson-Rowe said.
This story has been updated to reflect that Stephanie Joy Jackson-Rowe's petition review took place at the Chicago Election Board.
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