DuPage leaders continue to debate timing of merger

County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek is making a final effort to convince fellow officials to postpone the dissolution of DuPage's election commission until after the April election.

DuPage board members are scheduled to vote Tuesday to consolidate the county election commission and return its duties to the clerk's office. The merger, which would take effect immediately, is possible because county officials successfully pushed for a state law change.

But in a letter sent late Sunday night to newspapers, Kaczmarek says she hopes county board members "will make the right choice for an orderly transition" and have the dissolution of the election commission occur on May 1.

"As the newly elected DuPage County clerk, I am eager to take on the challenge of straightening out our election processes," wrote Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat who defeated Republican incumbent Paul Hinds during the November election. "However, we need to do everything we can to manage this transition smoothly.

"Given that we are already in the midst of the municipal elections," she added, "it's a bad idea to dissolve the commission and bring election oversight responsibilities to my office before the April 2 election."

Still, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said he's puzzled why Kaczmarek is pushing for the delay. After all, Kaczmarek has been publicly calling for the election commission to be dissolved for years.

"The staff, the resources, the budget - everything is in place," Cronin said Monday. "There's really nothing to debate. All she has to do is take on the responsibility of oversight."

Kaczmarek, who co-founded a local election watchdog group, has long been critical of the commission and the three-member panel that oversees it. In 2013, she called on the administration of elections in DuPage "to be returned where it belongs" - the clerk's office.

Election oversight power was stripped from the clerk's office in the early 1970s to create the election commission.

The idea of returning that power to the clerk's office gained momentum in recent years because of serious problems during elections, including a blunder that delayed results for hours during last spring's primary.

Still, Kaczmarek says consolidating her office and the commission during the current election cycle "is like trying to repair a car that's speeding down the expressway."

"To assure professional management that voters demand - and deserve - we need to review our existing systems and personnel, drill down all the problem areas, and find the best solutions to eliminate election problems once and for all," Kaczmarek wrote.

Kaczmarek also reveals that staff in her office are dealing with "unusual stresses."

"Six staff members - one-third of the office - submitted their resignations prior to my first day in office, taking more than 150 years of combined experience with them," she wrote. "With property tax bills due out in a few short months, we shouldn't ask our employees to take on this complex merger while the office is already extremely short-staffed."

But Cronin says the election commission is fully staffed.

"They have a full complement of people carrying out the responsibilities of election administration," Cronin said.

The biggest difference is that the three-member board of election commissioners will be disbanded. And the clerk will have the ultimate oversight authority.

"Isn't that what she wants?" Cronin said.

He noted that Kaczmarek has been "complaining about the performance" of the three election commissioners for a long time. Now she can oversee the election process, he said.

As for the timing, Cronin said there isn't a lot happening with the municipal election right now.

"This the best time in the foreseeable future to get this thing done," he said. "I don't understand what additional burden or what additional responsibilities will be required. The people that are doing the job right now will continue to be doing the job if the resolution passes."

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Dan Cronin
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