On May 13, 2013, the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor ("PAC") issued a binding opinion that the use of secret ballots by public bodies violates the Illinois Open Meetings Act ("OMA"). Public Access Opinion 13-006.
The issue of secret balloting by the Edgar County Airport Advisory Board (the "Board") was addressed by the PAC through its request for review process. The Board needed to fill a vacancy, and there were four candidates for the position. During a properly noticed open session meeting of the Board, the names of the four candidates were read out loud; each of the existing Board members then circled their candidate choice on a paper ballot and placed their ballot in a canister. The results of the balloting were read out loud; however, no record of who each Board member voted for was made. The Board then took action to recommend to the Edgar County Board that the candidate who received the most votes be selected to fill the vacancy.
The PAC found that the Board's use of secret balloting violated the OMA because such conduct directly conflicts with the concept of holding open meetings and undermines the public's right to know how its public officials vote on specific issues. The PAC directed the Board in the future to conduct an open vote that informs the public of each Board member's vote before taking final action on any matter which has been properly listed on its agenda.
We recommend that members of a public body be cognizant of this binding opinion when taking final action on a matter.
Catherine R. Locallo, an associate in the firm's Chicago office, prepared this Law Alert.