Online voter registration was a bigger priority to Gov. Pat Quinn than not expanding the size of government in a state that leads the nation in units of government.
That's why Quinn didn't use his amendatory veto power to pull the plug on the controversial creation of a Lake County election commission in a sweeping election bill he signed Saturday.
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"I looked at the whole bill. It included the opportunity to have online voter registration. I thought that was a good thing," Quinn said Wednesday. "The legislature, in its wisdom on this particular bill, voted for a board of election commissioners in Lake County. I thought it was appropriate to move forward as quickly as we can with the election bill itself, especially online voter registration. We've got to get that ready for next year, so I acted."
If Quinn had cut the Lake County election board provision out of the bill, it would have been sent back to lawmakers to either accept or reject his changes. The move would have at least delayed the plan becoming law. And if lawmakers disagreed about how to proceed, Quinn and lawmakers who support online voter registration could have been left with nothing, he said.
The law singles out Lake County for requiring creation of an election commission.
It has drawn fire throughout Lake County, and the measure's origins remain murky. State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, said he wasn't behind it. He was the only senator from Lake County to vote for it.
"I know I'm getting blamed for it," Link said in May. "But I'm used to that."
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor filed a lawsuit this week to challenge the new law in court. The case has been assigned to Kane County's circuit court, he said. Earlier, the Lake County Board passed a resolution asking Quinn for a veto.
Typically, election boards are set up after voter approval, not by state law. Locally, DuPage County and Aurora have separate election commissions.
Lawlor said because the success of the lawsuit isn't guaranteed, the process of selecting an election board likely will begin soon.
"The fact of the matter is, we're going to have to run an election one way or another," he said.
The new law removes election operations from Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, a Republican. A bipartisan, five-member board would be appointed to oversee a completely separate office.
Helander, who opposed the creation of the elections board in the past, was tight-lipped about the latest developments.
"It's a political fight and I'm staying out of it," she said.
Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman has begun soliciting applications to fill the five-member panel.
Applications are available at the court's website, 19thcircuitcourt.state.il.us/BoardOfElectionCommissioners.
In addition to the creation of the election commission and online voter registration, Quinn's office noted the approved election bill also changes hours for early voting on Sundays to noon until 3 p.m., requires the state board of elections to post precinct-by-precinct results, and eliminates votes for candidates who drop out of a race but remain on the ballot.