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updated: 7/31/2017 5:02 PM

State cuts 2017 funds for voter registration integrity

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Local election authorities will lose more than $4.4 million in grant funds this year that pay for, among other things, purging ineligible names from voter registration rolls.

But officials say they are used to the roller coaster nature of election funding.

Amy Kelly, the assistant to the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, notified county clerks of the bad news at the beginning of July. Six election bodies applied for at least $100,000 from what's known as the IVRS Lump Sum Grant. In addition to voter registration integrity, the grant helps fund voter registration equipment and corresponding software licensing fees.

The grant typically functions as a reimbursement for money already spent for such efforts. The money for 2017 became one of the many funding casualties in the state budget debate.

The Cook County clerk's office applied for $1.43 million, but spokesman Nick Shields said officials have learned not to count on the money. The office builds any of the grant cash that does come through into the office's operating budget.

"We would have had the opportunity to hire additional staff, invest in additional training and modernize some of our Election Day infrastructure," Shields said of plans for the funds. "One of the projects in the hopper was developing, potentially internally, an all-encompassing Election Day dashboard to help us increase responsiveness at polling sites if a complication arises."

The project will sit on the back burner for a while longer because of the vanishing funds. But not everyone has given up on getting the money yet.

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham's office was eligible for nearly $101,000 in reimbursement from the grant for 2017. He and other officials are pinching pennies to help solve a $2.8 million midyear budget shortfall.

Kane County Board members have already reduced that deficit to less than $700,000, but officials, like Cunningham, are being asked to find either more cuts or more revenue.

Cunningham described the lost funding as an "omission error" on the part of the state. He'll continue to lobby for the funds, but the county does not have a strong history of receiving support from the grant. Financial records show the state hasn't funded any of the costs Kane County is eligible to receive reimbursement through the grant since 2012. As a result, the county stopped budgeting for the funds in 2014.

Joe Onzick, Kane County's chief financial officer, said he and other officials trying to close the budget gap would love it if the money came through.

"To the extent that we lost potential additional revenue is, of course, never good news," Onzick said. "It is that much less that we might have received to offset the revenue shortfalls in other areas."

Kane County has an even larger budget deficit heading into 2018. And there may be some good news on that front regarding the IVRS Lump Sum Grant.

Kelly said the state's new budget includes $3.9 million for the grant. But that total may shrink if the state board of elections needs any of the money for its own operational needs.

McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan did not respond to an interview request. Her office was eligible for $229,000 in grant funds, one of the larger amounts compared to the size of the county.

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