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Article updated: 8/2/2013 2:31 PM

Injunction sought to halt Lake County election commission

Willard Helander

Willard Helander

 
Aaron Lawlor

Aaron Lawlor

 
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Lake County officials on Friday asked that a temporary injunction be granted to prevent the county clerk's office from being stripped of election oversight powers as part of a controversial election law.

Assistant State's Attorney Daniel Jasica said the county filed the action against Chief Judge Fred Foreman to stop him from appointing the five-member election commission that would oversee Lake County elections under the new law.

Jasica said the move is the first step in stopping the legislation, signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn on July 28, that stripped election powers from Lake County Clerk Willard Helander. That measure was included in a wider-reaching piece of election-related legislation.

Should the temporary injunction be granted by Kane County Judge David R. Akemann at an Aug. 16 hearing, the clerk's office would continue to oversee elections until the lawsuit filed this week to stop the law wraps up in court. If it is denied, Foreman would have to appoint the five-member commission to manage future elections, starting with the spring primary.

Foreman is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor because he is in charge of appointing the commission. Lawlor's lawsuit also targets the state elections board.

Lawlor has said previously that the law is "special legislation" that 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.

Lawlor, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim and Helander refused to comment about the court hearing Friday.

Because of the conflict of interest, the case is being heard by Akemann, a Republican judge from Kane County.

Akemann said in court Friday that "This isn't my first time at the rodeo," regarding election law, and he "looks forward to" reviewing and ruling on the legislation.

Attorney Lawrence A. Stein was also in court to represent Helander and the Lake County Clerk's Office.

Because the law pulls election oversight from Helander, politicians on both sides of the aisle have wondered whether the longtime county clerk was targeted for political reasons.

Much of the blame has been put at the feet of State Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan, who leads Lake County's Democratic Party organization. Link has denied responsibility for the legislation and was not in the courtroom Friday.

Should the new law be found constitutional, 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, but those elements are expected to cost the county between $500,000 and $700,000, officials have said.

Quinn said he was in favor of the law because it also allows Illinoisans to register to vote online, a measure heralded by Quinn and other politicians.

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