Law Offices of Jeff Smith

Election Law and Voting Rights

Election Law links

A Career-Long Interest in Voting Rights. Jeff Smith's first work in law school was as an intern on an anti-corruption investigation. As a law student, he worked with the federal Legal Services agency in Texas on constitutional and Civil Rights Act litigation to protect minority voters from discriminatory gerrymandering. He wrote his senior thesis on voting rights while taking multiple courses and independent study in constitutional law and serving on the board of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

Political Advisor and Activist. Back in Chicago, Jeff put his knowledge and ideals to practical application, volunteering and contributing advisory roles to dozens of political campaigns over the next two decades. Jeff served on the board of the Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization for many years. Other notable participation included serving as
      - campaign manager for the first president of the Citizens Utility Board,
      - Illinois state chair for a presidential campaign,
      - 49th Ward coordinator for Mayor Harold Washington's re-election campaign, and
      - a 4-year term as elected Democratic Committeeman for the 9th Congressional District,
during which time he drafted a proportional-representation plan for the election of Illinois' delegates to the national Democratic Convention, a version of which was enacted into law and used by the Democratic Party.

Election Law Scholar. Jeff developed and taught a course in Election Law at Loyola University of Chicago's Law School, with practical instruction in ballot access and special emphasis on voting rights. Guest lecturers included numerous elected officials, including current Gov. Pat Quinn. Numerous alumni of Jeff's courses currently are in public service in numerous capacities, including Congressman Mike Quigley (D.-IL5). The curriculum has been used as a template for similar courses at law schools around the country. Jeff occasionally speaks to groups on election-related issues and has served multiple times as a panelist for the Evanston Community Foundation's seminars for local candidates.

Advice to governments. Jeff Smith in both private and public practice has advised numerous local governments. He served under Chicago Mayors Washington and Sawyer as a Senior Attorney with the Law Department. Having been on both sides of litigation involving cities, he is particularly aware of the care government must take in safeguarding the rights of its citizens.

Protection at the Polls. Having worked on campaigns from the top level to the bottom, from campaign manager to precinct worker, Jeff is often called upon for advice to campaigns. He has reviewed thousands of pages of nominating petitions and statements of candidacy. He has been trained and worked as a deputy voting registrar and has been credentialed countless times as an election day pollwatcher, often monitoring ballot counting at the close of polls, and occasionally serving as a volunteer for Project LEAP.

Recent Election Law Work.

Voter Protection Boiler Room. November, 2010: Jeff worked in the Democratic Coordinated Campaign's "boiler room," fielding calls from voter protection attorneys around Illinois about polling place glitches, ensuring voters had the right to exercise their franchise.

Candidates Assisted With Ballot Access.Fall, 2008-Spring, 2009: Jeff Smith researched and advised multiple candidates, both on a formal and informal basis, as to how to get on the ballot, and some of the pitfalls inherent in Illinois's patchwork of municipal nominating procedures. During the 2009 municipal elections, Jeff was frequently called on for quick answers on matters ranging from yard sign placement to the conditions under which a candidate could enter the polling place. On Election Day, Jeff served as a pollwatcher credentialed by IVI-IPO and checked out multiple polling places where potential intimidation of voters or electioneering had been rumored.

Obama Voting Rights Team.2008: Jeff, along with hundreds of other lawyers, worked as part of the Obama campaign's voter protection team in Indiana during the primary and in Missouri on Election Day in November, to make sure that every voter was able to vote and have his or her vote counted.

Right to Have Ballots Counted Upheld.April, 2007: This office lent strategic, research, and drafting assistance to help uphold the results of the aldermanic election in Chicago's 49th Ward (Rogers Park). Plaintiffs challenging the close results of the runoff election had asked the Court for the unusual relief of discarding thousands of votes from multiple precincts where, the plaintiffs alleged, there had been instances of vote fraud. This office helped articulate a response demonstrating that the extreme remedy requested would do massive injury to the rights of voters who had voted lawfully. The court ultimately ruled along the lines our client requested, and dismissed the lawsuit.

Evanstonians Assisted on Civic Center Dispute.Feb.-March, 2007: This office assisted an activist group in placing on the ballot for the April consolidated election an advisory referendum asking the citizens of Evanston whether the city governmental seat should remain in the existing Civic Center. Subsequently, when the City placed its own competing "counter-referendum" on the ballot, this office filed suit to have that referendum stricken from the ballot as confusing to voters and thus unlawful. There is very little Illinois case law on this topic, and the complaint was dismissed by the Circuit Court of Cook County; while appeal was possible, the time until the election was very short, and the plaintiffs chose to take their case to the voters rather than a higher court. This was successful when the citizens' referendum was approved with more than 85% of the vote.Click here to download a copy of the plaintiffs' brief; you will need a current copy of Adobe Acrobat® or Adobe Acrobat Reader®.

Alleged Voting Fraud Dispute 2005-06: Jeff represented a suburban alderman in an election contest stemming from the April, 2005 consolidated municipal elections. The Circuit Court of Cook County granted Jeff's motion to dismiss the election case from court. The contest then moved to the Evanston City Council, which would not hear the case. The case then moved to federal court, where Judge Gottschall in August, 2006, 16 months after the election, granted our client's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Our office was pleased to work with the firm of Engelman & Smith, and with Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, who entered as pro bono co-counsel at the federal stage and did the heavy lifting on the federal briefing. Termination of the litigation provided a fair and economic result for the voters and for the City. Click here to download a copy of Judge Gottschall's opinion. Click this link to download a copy of the motion to dismiss before the City of Evanston, which summarizes the interesting case from the defense point of view.

Election Law Links. The following are some links to Illinois and local agencies, including in particular those relevant to Evanston school board races, which Jeff referred to in his presentation to the Evanston Community Foundation's Leadership Evanston attendees on Nov. 20, 2010:

The above is not intended as legal advice, but only as general information that may or may not apply to your particular needs. Updated November 2010.

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