WASHINGTON — Petitions turned in Friday at City Hall could place a referendum on the March 20 ballot asking Washington residents if the city should switch from partisan to nonpartisan city elections starting in 2019.
If the measure passes, an election process that dates to the early 20th century, and perhaps even to the 19th century, would come an end.
Washington is the lone Tazewell County community with partisan city elections. Bartonville is the only Peoria County community with partisan municipal elections.
All nine Washington City Council members — Mayor Gary Manier and eight aldermen — are Republicans.
No Democrat has been elected to council in decades and no Democrat has been on a city ballot for about a dozen years, according to the Tazewell County Clerk's office. Washington's city clerk and city treasurer also are elected on a partisan basis.
Supporters of the election ballot question gathered the needed petition signatures in 10 days. The petition drive began Dec. 6 and ended Friday. The deadline to turn in the petitions is Monday.
There are 698 signatures on the petitions, 280 more than the 418 required to put the election question on the ballot. Objections to petition signers must be filed by Dec. 26.
Petition drive organizer Lilija Stevens, who handed the petitions Friday to City Clerk Pat Brown, said 20 Washington residents including herself gathered signatures.
Stevens said she started the petition drive after council did not discuss the election issue at its Dec. 4 meeting. Council can put the election question on the March 20 ballot by passing a resolution by Jan. 2.
Even though she supports nonpartisan city elections, Stevens said, it's more important to her that Washington voters get a chance to decide if they want to make the switch.
The issue of partisan vs. nonpartisan city elections in Washington first arose early this year during campaigning for the city's February primary election, which included contested Republican races for mayor and two aldermen seats.
Manier, who does not vote at council meetings except to break a tie, spoke that night against making a switch to nonpartisan elections.
He said Friday that no decisions are made by council on a partisan basis, but "if the question is on the ballot, then that's part of our democratic process."
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.