Lake County was served a steaming plate full of something odious it did not order, and now county leaders want it sent back to the kitchen. Good for them.
County officials this week filed suit seeking an injunction to halt a new state law that strips the county clerk of her oversight of local elections and puts it squarely in the hands of a costly, politicized commission. This ridiculous change -- neither sought by the citizenry of Lake County nor conceivably applied to anyone else in Illinois -- was mysteriously wedged into a wide-ranging package of election-related legislation headed for approval by the General Assembly in the waning days of the spring session. It's the worst kind of lawmaking, and a cause worth fighting.
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County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor filed the lawsuit Tuesday, naming the state election commission and Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman. Foreman, it's worth mentioning, is not the villain here, but pinning the blame on any one person is, apparently by design, like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
• The change was brought about by the inclusion of a mere two paragraphs in a 217-page Senate amendment to a House bill that focuses primarily on online voter registration;
• While it doesn't name Lake County, it is so narrowly defined as to exclude every other;
• It was not something discussed or voted on by the people of Lake County;
• No need for the change was ever expressed publicly -- before passage or since;
• It is expected to cost taxpayers in Lake County another $500,000 to $700,000 for commission salaries, offices and staff;
• Its author has been too cowardly to admit having created it. Every Republican and several Democrats from Lake County's Springfield contingent opposed the bill. In the Senate, only Waukegan Democrat Terry Link voted in favor of the plan. And he has denied authorship.
• Once the law passed, Lawlor personally pleaded with Gov. Quinn to use his amendatory veto power to strike that portion of the broader bill. Apparently unwilling to risk a second vote on online voter registration, the governor, who fashions himself an advocate of limited government, chose not to strike the imposition of unnecessary expansion of government in Lake County.
Lawlor and the county's lawyers are calling the measure illegal and unconstitutional, and considering the constitution's ban on special legislation targeting a single entity, he has a point. And that is the point -- with the added insult that the bill is essentially an unfunded mandate, a state law requiring local expenses with no corresponding funding, directed specifically at Lake County. As aggravating as such mandates are, it is not prudent or possible for local entities to fight each one. But for Lake County, being singled out for an expensive law that few can justify and many do not want, well, it's worth putting up a fight against this one.