DuPage County proposes merger of clerk, Election Commission

A long-gestating piece of DuPage County reform may finally see its day on the voting block in Springfield, as the County Board chairman, clerk and Election Commission have proposed the consolidation of the latter two offices.

Chairman Dan Cronin formally introduced the idea during the Dec. 14 board meeting, saying the move could both realize savings for the county as well as keep and expand the appointed, bipartisan Board of Election Commissioners.

“When it comes to elections, there’s something very sacred about it,” Cronin said. “We here in DuPage County want to make sure we have the faith and trust and confidence of the public.”

The proposal, which will need to be approved by the state legislature, would expand the board from three to five members, including two representatives from each major political party, appointed by the County Board chairman, and the county clerk as chairman.

It also would allow the County Board to vote on the appointments, instead of them being unilaterally decided by the County Board chairman after considering input.

County Clerk Paul Hinds acknowledged the issue was a main one in his election bid two years ago, saying he wanted time to explore options instead of advocating a full consolidation from the start.

 Elections in all but one other county in Illinois are handled by the clerk’s office. But Hinds said the goal was to continue the tradition of including both parties, even if it meant an even more unique system – especially to make sure the public felt like elections would continue to be fair.

“A good policy should be accepted by both parties,” he said. “If there’s something new that I come up with or something new that the board comes up with, I think [that we] could sell that to the public and to the board saying, ‘This is good policy.’ I don’t need to be the sole person in charge of the election – I like having both parties at the table.”

Cronin said the more nuanced approach was not the easy thing to do, but instead it could serve as a model of oversight and transparency, complete with continuing open meetings and more inclusiveness.

The two said they believed it would create a smoother customer experience and eliminate redundancy. Neither were willing to go into specifics about potential job eliminations, though they acknowledged there would likely be an overall headcount reduction.

They also said they believed the move could help improve the actual election process, which has been marred with late results, technological failures and recounts in recent years.

In a statement, Commission Chairwoman Cathy Ficker Terrill expressed her support for the move.

“An integral part of all discussions has been the need to retain and enhance both political parties’ representation within the Election Commission,” she said. “I believe all voters are well-served in DuPage County under this proposal.”

According to board documents, the goal is for legislation to be presented to the state legislature in February 2017. The full details of the proposal can be found at dupageco.org/ECProposal. Comments can be made online or at a public hearing following the Jan. 10 DuPage County Board meeting at about 11 a.m. in the board room.