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updated: 8/16/2013 7:48 PM

Judge halts creation of Lake election commission

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  • Aaron Lawlor

      Aaron Lawlor

  • Willard Helander

      Willard Helander

 
 

A plan to strip oversight of Lake County elections from the county clerk was halted by a judge's order Friday afternoon.

In a hearing in Waukegan, Kane County Judge David Akemann granted a preliminary injunction that prevents Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman from appointing members of an election commission that would take over responsibilities held by the county clerk.

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Legislation signed by Gov. Pat Quinn this summer called for the creation of the five-member commission. The county clerk has overseen elections for decades.

The section about the commission comprised a few sentences in a much larger election-related bill.

Opponents of the law said it illegally singled out Lake County and takes away voters' rights to choose whom 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 apply only to Lake.

A Kane County judge heard the case here because Foreman was named as a defendant in the complaint, which was brought last month by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor.

The preliminary injunction doesn't end the case against Foreman and the Illinois state elections board. But in his ruling, Akemann said he granted the injunction because he believes Lawlor has "a reasonable likelihood of success."

Lawlor celebrated the victory Friday.

"I think it's a great first step in challenging the unconstitutionality of the law and preserving voters' say over who administers the elections," he said.

State's Attorney Mike Nerheim, one of the lawyers representing Lawlor in the matter, was similarly pleased. But he also noted the case isn't over.

"We will continue to fight," Nerheim said.

When asked for a comment on the ruling, Lake County Clerk Willard Helander gave out a copy of a two-page statement that criticized the law, calling it unfair and partisan.

Helander is a Republican. State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and the leader of his party in Lake County, has been blamed for the law.

Link has denied responsibility.

State Rep. JoAnn Osmond, an Antioch Republican, said she was relieved the county doesn't have to set up the commission as planned in the next few weeks.

"I am so thankful that the judge understood what was going on," Osmond said. "It should not be something done in 30 days."

State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, said she hadn't heard the details of the ruling and wanted to be sure the upcoming 2014 elections would proceed smoothly.

She said she voted against the legislation because voters didn't get a say in the matter.

"I felt that we were usurping the voters' rights," she said.

A new court date wasn't immediately set.

• Daily Herald staff writer Mike Riopell contributed to this report.

Injunction: Voters' rights at issue

Election: Lawmaker says 'we were usurping voters' rights' with change

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