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Article updated: 7/30/2013 6:03 PM

Lake County seeking injunction to stop election law changes

By Russell Lissau

Calling the measure illegal and unconstitutional, Lake County officials are seeking an injunction to stop a new state law that strips away the county clerk's election oversight.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Waukegan to halt the change, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law as part of a wide-reaching piece of election-related legislation.

The law orders Lake County's chief judge to create a five-member commission that will manage future elections, starting with the spring primary.

Lawlor is represented in the matter by Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, and the duo held a news conference Tuesday to announce the move.

Lawlor said the law illegally singles out Lake County and takes away voters' rights to choose who they want to run their elections. Although the legislation doesn't mention Lake County by name, it describes applicable counties in such a way that it can only apply to Lake.

"It is undeniably special legislation that is prohibited by the Illinois constitution," Lawlor said during the brief gathering at the county government center in Waukegan.

Lawlor's lawsuit targets Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman and the state elections board.

Representatives of Foreman's office declined to comment.

The case is scheduled for Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffman's courtroom Thursday. It likely will be assigned to a judge from outside Lake County because of the conflict of interest, officials said.

As no other county is affected by the election-commission mandate, politicians on both sides of the aisle have wondered if County Clerk Willard Helander was targeted for political reasons.

Much of the blame has been put at the feet of state Sen. Terry Link, who leads Lake County's Democratic Party organization. Link has denied responsibility.

In a news release sent by an attorney, Helander criticized Democratic lawmakers for "running roughshod over the citizens of Lake County."

The law had bipartisan opposition from Lake County's delegation to Springfield. Every Republican and several Democrats voted against it.

In the state Senate, Link was the only Lake County delegate to vote for the plan.

When asked during the news conference who was to blame for the legislation, Lawlor -- a Vernon Hills Republican -- didn't name names or give his theory as to a possible motive.

Instead, he talked of voters who "are left without a voice as to who runs their elections."

Aurora, DuPage County and Chicago are among the Illinois communities with election commissions. They're typically approved by referendum.

Under the new law, two Republicans and two Democrats will serve on the Lake County commission, as well as a fifth member from any political party.

Ostensibly, the commission will have a staff and offices. Those elements are expected to cost the county between $500,000 and $700,000, officials have said.

The impact on staffing in the Lake County clerk's office hasn't been made clear yet.

A handful of employees from the office sat in the audience during the news conference. A few county board members attended, too.

In recent weeks, county officials formally asked Quinn to use his amendatory veto powers to change the law. Lawlor said he met with the governor about the issue, too.

But those efforts were unsuccessful.

The law also allows Illinoisans to register to vote online, among other changes. That part of the law has been heralded by Quinn and other politicians.

If approved, the injunction would only affect the part of the law relating to Lake County's election commission, Nerheim said.

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