PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD)– It’s a situation that Peoria County Election officials said they’ve never seen before.

Two candidates vying for the District 1 seat on the Peoria Public Schools Board are challenging each other’s number of signatures to secure a spot on the April ballot.

The two seeking the spot are incumbent school board president Martha Ross and her opponent Keisha Alexander, an entrepreneur and business owner.

According to code, candidates who are petitioning for the Peoria Public School Board must submit at least 200 signatures from qualified voters in the district. Both sides claim the other hasn’t met that requirement.

Ross submitted her challenge against Alexander’s signatures on Tuesday and Alexander’s daughter and campaign manager Chama St. Louis submitted a challenge against Ross on the same day.

“These petition challenges are becoming more frequent, but no I have never seen two candidates challenge each other before, so that’s a first,” Elizabeth Gannon, Executive Director for the Peoria County Election Commission, said.

Challenge against Ross’ signatures:

“Researching the signatures I think is our civic duty, that’s what we should be doing,” Chama St. Louis, said. “We want to make sure that folks who are getting on the ballot are getting on the ballot in an honest way and we want to make sure they deserve to be on the ballot.”

St. Louis’ challenge claims Ross submitted 329 signatures but retracted 94 of her own signatures [by certification of deletion] bringing her down to 235 out of 200.

She then claims an additional 103 discrepancies with Ross’ remaining signatures.

Her reasoning is: 91 signatures are from people who are not registered to vote at the address listed on the nomination paper, 3 signatures are duplicated, 2 are outside of the required district, 5 have incomplete addresses, and 1 (and possibly another) has been deceased since 2021.

“Finding one and possibly two people on a petition who are deceased and died before we were able to collect those signatures [in 2022] is very alarming,” St. Louis said. “I find it hard to navigate or believe that you had a deceased signature and that it was by accident.”

She claims Ross only has 132 valid signatures which falls short of the required 200.

“I also think we have to have a real conversation about integrity and I would encourage other people to request those petitions and look at it for yourselves,” St. Louis said.

Challenge against Alexander’s signatures:

WMBD reached out to Martha Ross who said she didn’t want to publicly talk until she could do more research on the matter and then come out as an informed speaker.

Through Ross’ challenge, there is a claim that Alexander submitted 328 signatures and there are 157 objections which would mean only 171 are valid, but the submission lists only 166 as valid.

Her submitted reasons are: 80 signatures aren’t registered at the address listed on the petition, 3 have no address listed, 14 have addresses outside School District 1, 3 signatures have information that is not legible on the petition, and 57 signatures should be tossed out because the notorized signed and sworn name of the circulator is different from the circulator who signed the petition page.

Alexander’s Response:

“The signature that is not the same was put on there by the notary which was a typographical error,” Alexander said.

“I can see how it easily could have happened we were all there, we put a lot of papers in front of her,” St. Louis said.

So, what happens next?

Gannon said there has to be an electoral board hearing, made up of election commissioners, where both parties can state their case and the electoral board will make a ruling.

She said the election commission staff will look at their voter rules and verify whether the challenged signatures are accurate or not and they will present that information to the electoral board to help make a decision.

What if neither has 200 votes?

Gannon said if neither has 200 valid votes in the end, neither name would be on the ballot. But they could both file to be write-in candidates if they choose to.

If not, there would not be any valid candidates for that position and the school board would need to appoint someone to that position if no one is elected.