DuPage voters may get say on dissolving election commission

DuPage County Board members plan to put an advisory referendum question on the March ballot to ask voters if the county election commission should be dissolved.

Chairman Dan Cronin earlier this year was counting on state lawmakers to adopt legislation to merge the election commission with the county clerk's office and create a five-member panel to provide bipartisan oversight of elections.

But the measure got bogged down in the Illinois House after being approved in early May by the state Senate.

"We had some wonderful Democratic legislators who were helping us," Cronin said. But complaints from DuPage Democrats prevented the measure from advancing through the House, he said.

So Cronin wants the county board to pursue a nonbinding referendum asking to simply return election oversight to the county clerk's office - power stripped from that office in the early 1970s to create the election commission. A decision on whether to put the question on the ballot could come as soon as Dec. 12.

"Let's just fold it into the clerk's office and be done with it," Cronin said.

If DuPage voters agree during the March primary, Cronin said he'll take the results to Springfield and urge state lawmakers to act.

"My expectation is there will be an overwhelming message from the voters to consolidate," he said.

If that happens, the clerk's office would become the sole election authority.

The clerk's office is run by Paul Hinds, a Republican. But Democrat Jean Kaczmarek is expected to challenge Hinds in the fall 2018 election.

Kaczmarek for years has called for the election commission to merge with the clerk's office. On Wednesday, the Glen Ellyn resident said she supports taking the idea to voters.

"If you ask county clerks in 100 counties outside DuPage what their number one responsibility is, he or she most definitely would say administering the electoral process," Kaczmarek said.

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

Cronin previously expressed a desire to seek a binding referendum to dissolve the election commission. But this week, he said the county doesn't have the authority to put a binding question on the ballot because it doesn't have home rule.

County officials estimate that consolidating the election commission and the clerk's office could save taxpayers at least $300,000 a year by combining staffs and finding efficiencies.

In a time when budgets are tight, county board member Jim Zay said DuPage must find ways to save money.

"We're going to go to the people," Zay said. "We're going to find out what they want."

Jim Zay
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