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County Clerk accuses Cicero officials of using employees to help re-elect Dominick

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Updated: March 20, 2013 6:25AM

Cook County Clerk David Orr Monday accused Cicero town officials of “improperly — and possibly illegally” — using town employees to advance the campaign of Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and others on his slate.

In a letter to Town of Cicero attorney Michael Del Galdo on Monday, Orr contended that over the weekend, “uniformed employees of the town’’ knocked on voters’ doors and “questioned them about their voting intentions or actions.’’

“This could easily be construed as an attempt at voter intimidation,’’ Orr wrote in the letter. “You and your clients are entitled to gather information regarding any aspect of an election, but no campaign is entitled to use the resources of the Town in the process.’’

Disclosure of Orr’s letter came after U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-4th), and Dominick challenger Juan Ochoa held a news conference to demand that Orr and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez investigate complaints that uniformed town employees in marked cars were showing up on the doorsteps of Latino Cicero voters and telling them that voting by mail was illegal.

Cicero town officials contend the uniformed community service officers were investigating the possibility of mail-in ballot fraud in the upcoming Feb. 26 election after the number of absentee Cicero voting applications shot up this election — from 400 previously to about 2000 — and some applications were registered to vacant lots and boarded up homes.

“We sent these people in there because after dealing with Orr’s office for four weeks, he said in order for us to have a complaint, we’d have to have the evidence and we’d have to collect it,’’ Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said. “We didn’t ask anybody who they voted for. We asked, ‘Did they request an absentee ballot?’ ’’

Gutierrez called the effort part of an attempt to “disenfranchise” Latino voters, who can vote by mail without giving a reason for being absent from the polling place after a 2010 change in the law. Ochoa has been urging Cicero residents to use this new flexibility that’s available to all voters.

On Monday, Gutierrez, who supports Ochoa, beseeched Orr and Alvarez to come to Cicero and protect it from the town’s “infamy of corruption.’’

“We need to see you. You need to come here to Cicero,” Gutierrez said.

In a separate news conference Monday afternoon, Orr said his office has received numerous complaints from all sides in the election, many of which have been passed on to the state’s attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Jan Kralovec, director of elections for Cook County, said the town was told they needed to collect signed affidavits if they believed voter fraud was occurring.

“If you want to collect info, it’s on you,” Kralovec said the town was told.

But county officials did not expect the town to collect information in the manner it has, Orr said. As he phrased it in his letter Monday, “We could not have imagined that your clients would improperly — and possibly illegally — employ Town resources and employees to advance their campaigns. This mixture of political campaigns and Town authority is improper on its face.’’

Hanania bristled at the Ochoa campaign’s suggestion that Cicero employees were harassing town residents over the weekend. “This idea that we were bullying people is ridiculous,” Hanania said.

Hanania said Cicero officials informed the correct authorities about multiple incidents of suspected voter fraud but didn’t get any cooperation.

Orr “told us that we needed to go out and get evidence of vote fraud,” Hanania said. “We had to go out there, not him, not the county...That’s exactly what we did.”

Asked if his office told Cicero officials to go to voters’ homes, Orr responded: “Absolutely not true.”

The intent of the visits makes a big difference, Orr said.

“The problem is the law is not clear there,” he said.

“Even if you argue the intent is good in what they’re trying to do, it’s being ‘misused’,” Orr said, adding that he could see how people could view it as intimidating.

Orr said his office doesn’t have the authority to stop town officials from going door-to-door, which is why the complaints have been passed on to the state’s attorney and Justice Department.

Hanania also repeated the accusation that the Ochoa campaign relies on gang members as campaign workers, a charge Ochoa has called “a complete and utter lie.”

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