While not directly advocating for the abolition of the Aurora Election Commission, Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham promises his office can take over the city's ballots for less money.
Stan Bond, his challenger in the Republican primary for county clerk, said Cunningham has done little to back up that promise.
If voters disband the commission March 20, the county would assume responsibility for about 57,000 voters. Cunningham told a county board committee last month he can handle the votes at less than half the cost it takes the Aurora commission to do so.
The county kicks in up to $640,000 in operational funding for the commission plus another $100,000 for two staff salaries each year. The city of Aurora adds an average $701,454 a year to fund the commission. All that money comes from Aurora residents' taxes.
The incumbent doubled down on his pledge for a tax savings during a recent Daily Herald endorsement interview.
"If they give me $500,000 to $600,000 a year, I can run the election on that," Cunningham said. "I have done the in-depth financial analysis. We are much cheaper per vote. We are ready. We can handle it."
Bond, a former employee of the clerk's office, isn't so sure. In January, he issued a statement praising the efforts of County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen to get the question that might abolish the commission on the ballot. Bond hailed the disbanding of the commission as a move that will "save taxpayer dollars."
During his endorsement interview, Bond said the savings come only if several assumptions prove true. Bond said the clerk should make that proof obvious to voters.
"Let's say this referendum passes and we have no plan," Bond said. "The plan will be we have to do it, and it's going to cost whatever it costs. Well, who the heck is going to come up with that money? We need to deal with that right now."
Bond said it's not clear if Aurora will continue to help fund its local elections by giving money to the county. It's also not clear if Kane County will need new equipment or how soon it will need that equipment to ensure Aurora has an equal experience at polling places compared to the rest of the county.
"If the job were mine today we'd be working on these issues today," Bond said. "If we are taking over Aurora's elections in time for the November election, and I don't even know that that's been established, I'm deeply concerned. I have not seen a plan that puts any of those concerns to rest."
Bond said if Cunningham is working on resolving those questions he shouldn't be doing it solo. The county committee Cunningham reports to and the Aurora representatives on the board should be informed and involved in all steps. And Bond wants to see legal opinions that everything the clerk's office puts in place is up to par with election law before the county counts one Aurora ballot.
Cunningham, an Aurora resident, said his record as a clerk and his legal and business background show he will cover all the bases for Aurora voters if they want the county to take over their elections.
The first plan is to take over the commission's voting equipment and keep the machines residents are familiar with.
Cunningham shared a letter from Ken Menzel, the general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, stating that officials have reviewed the different election systems in place, one in the county and one in Aurora, and they "haven't come up with a reason the two tabulation systems being used in the respective jurisdictions could not continue to be used if the (commission) were to be discontinued."
Cunningham also shared an email exchange between the clerk's office and the state's attorney's office showing efforts are being made on letters of intent to secure necessary voting equipment in advance of the decision Aurora voters will make.
Cunningham said any sentiment that the county won't be ready is "misinformation."
"We have a plan and are covering all possible scenarios," he said. "We are ready as far as technology is concerned. As far as money, I look at this as a business. My bottom line is where is our waste. When I find waste I do away with it. Stan's job, I did away with it and cross-trained the remaining staff. It saved $90,000. I got the state to reduce the number of election judges we needed to three per precinct. That saves us $50,000.
"This issue shouldn't be about the Kane County Republican clerk trying to take over the Aurora Election Commission," Cunningham continued. "If you do that it becomes a Republican/Democrat issue, and it will be voted on based on emotions rather than statistics."