RANTOUL — The Rantoul electoral board on Tuesday voted 2-1 to allow a question of whether the village should respind its district-based system of electing trustees to remain on the April 4 ballot.
The board voted 2-1 to reject an objection to the ballot question.
Mayor Chuck Smith and village Clerk Janet Gray voted to allow the question of whether to return to electing trustees at large to remain on the ballot, while Trustee Sam Hall voted to uphold the objection.
The first candidates elected under the current system, which divides the village into six districts, took their seats in May 2021. Proponents of the change said portions of the community, primarily the southern part, had not been properly represented under the old at-large system.
At Tuesday’s hearing, resident Gary Wilson, a former village trustee, said he thinks the new system has divided people.
The petition asking for the district question to be placed on the ballot about four years ago “asked for your name and address,” he said. “Nowhere on there did they ask for the color of skin or ethnic origin. I’m tired of everything in Rantoul being about race. I think this further divides this country and further divides this village.”
John Kraft, a member of the Edgar County Watchdogs, said he was disappointed that the question of whether the district system should be revoked “was even presented.”
He said the new system hasn’t been in place for four years yet and a change back to the old system “essentially limits any chance of minority representation.”
“To get rid of districting … does a disservice to the residents,” he said.
Jack Anderson, a member of Rantoul Residents for Representation, which got the original question of district representation on the ballot, said he believes the campaign to get the old form of representation on the ballot, spearheaded by former Trustee Gary Workman, is insufficient.
“At the November 6, 2018, election, 1,725 of Rantoul’s voters passed … in favor of abandoning the at-large system and to adopt districting representation,” Anderson said.
State law requires that a return to a former method of election cannot take place for four years after a switch is made. At issue is whether that allows for a vote to be taken before that time has elapsed.
Anderson cited appellate court decisions from the 1950s that indicate the change cannot happen before the four years is up. Workman contends those cases do not touch on the election of trustees, but rather the selection of a city manager, and are not binding in this case .
Wendell Golston, also speaking on behalf of those objecting to the ballot question, said, “There’s some information you are overlooking: When you talk about letting the voters decide, 1,725 voters did decide.”
He said the question should not be on the ballot so soon.
“Detractors have said (the current system) hasn’t been working,” Golston said. “It has to be given the opportunity to work. When you say it’s not working right now, you’re telling us that you do not want it to work.”
Workman said the process of putting the question on the ballot has been carefully followed. He said if voters approve the change back to the old system, trustees elected under the districting system will be allowed to fill their entire four-year term.
“The petition should go on the ballot,” Workman said. “We should let the people decide.”