DuPage Democrats opposing proposed merger of county offices

Legislation is being considered in Springfield to pave the way for the DuPage County Election Commission to merge with the county clerk's office.

But DuPage Democrats who have floated the idea of returning election oversight power to the county clerk say they're opposing the state measure because they believe it's flawed.

State Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, last week introduced the proposed state law that would give any county board the authority to create a five-member board of election commissioners within the county clerk's office.

If the legislation is approved, the election commission in DuPage would become a division of the clerk's office by the end of the year.

"We're working to support this bill in Springfield," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said Tuesday. "We hope for a swift passage so we may continue down the path of streamlined, efficient local government providing taxpayers savings and better services as we combine these two offices into one."

The move comes decades after election oversight was stripped from the clerk's office to create the election commission. Another state law is needed now because officials want to keep the bipartisan oversight of elections.

The 1973 state law that formed DuPage's election commission required both political parties be represented on the three-person election commission board. Republicans hold two of the three seats.

County Clerk Paul Hinds, who is a Republican, has said he doesn't want DuPage to go back to a system where the county clerk is the sole election authority.

But Robert Peickert, the DuPage Democratic Party chairman, says he's concerned about increasing the election commission board to five members because Cronin, a Republican, still would have the power to appoint four of them.

The county clerk would be the fifth member and serve as the panel's chairman.

"To be truly bipartisan, the (county board) chairman must appoint Democratic members recommended by the Democratic Party of DuPage County," Peickert wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to Democratic state senators and representatives. He is asking Democratic state lawmakers to vote against the legislation.

But county board member John Curran said the proposed legislation would require a county board chairman to seek the advice and consent of the county board for the appointments. Right now, Cronin doesn't need county board approval to appoint election commissioners.

While elected Democrats and Republican officials would be consulted, Curran stressed that county board members are the democratically elected representatives of DuPage's residents. He said those board members - not the political parties - should have the final say on who is appointed.

Another concern Democrats have with the state measure is that it doesn't cap how much commissioners are paid. Currently, DuPage's three election commissioners receive $27,500 a year.

Jean Kaczmarek, who for years has called for the commission to merge with the clerk's office, said the legislation includes a provision that lets existing commissioners keep their salaries for the duration of their terms.

Meanwhile, DuPage is opposing another proposed state law that would eliminate the commissioners' salaries.

Kaczmarek argues that the salary of the commissioners should be cut.

"You had the opportunity to create a bill which eased divisiveness and gained respect," Kaczmarek said to county board members on Tuesday. "You missed it."

Cronin said the state measure would give county board members the authority to set the salary. If it's approved, he said the pay will be reduced.

Overall, he said the proposed merger is expected to save taxpayers at least $300,000.

"This is about saving money and consolidation," Cronin said. "People are losing sight of the big picture here."

  Jean Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat and longtime critic of the DuPage County Election Commission, says DuPage shouldn't have its state lobbyists push legislation that would lead to the consolidation of the election commission and the county clerk's office. "Our tax dollars should not be used to pay for legislation which works against our interests," she said. Daniel White/
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