More than four decades after election oversight was stripped from the DuPage County clerk's office to create the DuPage Election Commission, officials are working to develop plans to consolidate both offices to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
"We are working toward consolidation of the election commission and the county clerk's office, which will create a new hybrid providing our voters the most efficient, the most effective model for elections in DuPage County," county board Chairman Dan Cronin announced during Tuesday's county board meeting.
Election commission officials have adopted a series of cost-saving measures since Cronin launched the DuPage Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency Initiative in May 2012. The initiative called on the commission and 23 other agencies to make structural and operational reforms.
The commission, for example, shifted its website to the county's system and reduced the total number of polling places countywide. Those and other changes saved taxpayers an estimated $2.8 million over the past four years, officials said.
Still, Cronin says he wants to find additional savings while providing DuPage voters "the highest level of service."
"We are committed to restructuring and coming up with a more efficient model," he said.
So Cronin is working with county Clerk Paul Hinds and Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the DuPage Election Commission Board, to examine whether the county clerk, who is elected countywide, should run the day-to-day operations of the election commission.
"It's going to put it back under the clerk's office to a point," Hinds said. "How it actually looks in the end, that's what we have to look at."
While the specifics of the merger haven't been determined, Ficker Terrill said one goal will be to keep the bipartisan oversight of elections that exists in DuPage.
The 1973 state law that formed the election commission required that both political parties be represented on the three-person election commission board. Republicans hold two of the three seats in DuPage.
Cronin said the electoral board is "the mechanism that maintains the trust and the confidence of the public -- Democrats, Republicans and independents alike."
Cronin said he doesn't want DuPage to go back to a system where the county clerk is the sole election authority.
"The county clerk in this county has been a Republican for as long as I can remember," Cronin said. "There are Democrats out here who may feel disenfranchised if you hand over decisions about the conduct of elections to a Republican office holder."
He said the challenge in the coming months will be to find a way to merge both offices in a way that's more efficient, saves money and "maintains the trust and confidence of the voters."
The clerk's office -- which sends out property tax bills and handles other documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates -- has 18 employees. The election commission has 24 employees.
Jean Kaczmarek, a longtime critic of the election commission, for years has been calling for the commission to be merged with the clerk's office. She said the proposed consolidation would be a good move that "should eliminate lobbyists, political appointments, outside legal counsel and some outrageous executive salaries."
"I'll be watching to see if the savings actually get passed down to taxpayers," Kaczmarek said.
Cronin said the consolidation plan is expected to be released during the first week of December. State law would need to be changed to make a merger possible.
In the meantime, he said the commission will focus on preparing for November's general election. "Nothing is more important to us than that," he said.