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Article updated: 10/25/2013 5:02 PM

Judge to decide in 2 weeks if law ordering new Lake County election panel is legal

Aaron Lawlor

Aaron Lawlor

 
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A judge will take two weeks to decide whether the controversial state law ordering the creation of a Lake County election commission is legal.

Kane County Judge David Akemann -- on the bench because Lake County Chief Judge Fred Foreman is a defendant -- announced his plans Friday at the end of a nearly hourlong hearing in Waukegan. His ruling is expected Nov. 8.

Adopted this summer as part of a broad election-related package, the legislation strips oversight of Lake County's elections from the county clerk and gives it to a new, five-member commission.

Critics say the law illegally singles 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 affected counties by population and geography in such a way that it can only apply to Lake.

Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor sued the Illinois state elections board and Foreman to keep Foreman from appointing people to the panel as prescribed by the law.

Akemann issued a temporary injunction stopping the panel's formation in August. Lawlor is seeking a permanent injunction and for the portion of the law targeting the county to be ruled unconstitutional.

Lawlor's attorney in the case, Assistant State's Attorney Dan Jasica, made a final argument for why the law should be struck down during Friday's hearing.

Jasica said the population requirement in the law -- 700,000 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census -- was written in such a way that it can only apply to Lake County, even if other counties eventually reach that mark.

"What we have is an unjustified singling out of one county," Jasica told Akemann.

Assistant Attorney General Thor Inouye, representing the elections board and Foreman, acknowledged the legislation targets Lake County.

"I wouldn't disagree that this statute could have been written better," he said.

But Inouye denied the legislation is illegal. He argued the law is beneficial for Lake County and actually would save taxpayers money.

When government agencies typically want to create election commissions, they do so by asking voters to decide the matter in a referendum. The state legislation eliminates that process and the financial burden involved, Inouye said.

"Whether they like it or not, it is a cost savings to them," he said.

In contrast, county officials have said creating and staffing the commission could cost taxpayers between $500,000 and $700,000.

Both sides in the case have agreed to obey a summary judgment rather than going to trial.

Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, a Libertyville Republican, cited the law among the reasons she's not seeking re-election in 2014. It's also led to several resignations in the clerk's office.

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