Davis: Here's an election law legislators should pass

 
 
Posted11/26/2016 2:00 PM

Just as you breathed a sigh of relief for surviving the grueling ordeal of this past election, here comes another -- and much more difficult -- one.

At least for us. Filing already has begun in some municipalities for local offices, and if a certain number of candidates file for a certain office, there may be a head-scratching primary election that would have the dramatic effort of narrowing a field of five candidates to four -- this in a state that can ill-afford any more frivolous expenses. And while the chances of this happening are slim, we could be looking at such a February primary in Aurora if one more candidate files for the mayor's job by Monday's deadline.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Otherwise, the vast majority of candidates will be filing during the ever-convenient week of Dec. 12-16 for the April election for local school, municipal, park, library and township boards. Our mission, and we always choose to accept it, is to track down the candidates who filed for local office, obtain their email addresses so we can send them questionnaires soliciting their views on the issues of the day. We publish the responses online and in our Neighbor editions. In some cases, the questionnaire responses will be all we'll be able to publish given the volume of election contests there are likely to be. During the last local election in 2015, we sent questionnaires to more than 800 candidates.

You might ask: How hard can it be to get a few hundred email addresses? Here's the challenge: Our arcane state election law requires candidates to provide only their names and mailing addresses when they file paperwork with their local government. I should hasten to add that many clerks of our communities are familiar with our need for email addresses, and grab them from the candidates when they file -- and get us the entire list within minutes after the deadline passes. But when we're dealing with smaller towns, less visible units of government, this can become a teeth-pulling chore.

It's been our experience that some clerks won't give out phone numbers or any additional info out of some misguided instinct to protect the privacy of our potential future public servants. Ponder that contradiction for a moment. (Full disclosure alert: Stole the "ponder that contradiction" line from a previous column on the topic.)

During that 2015 local election, DuPage Editor Bob Smith recounted this experience: "I've had a few conversations this month with library administrators who are reluctant, or refuse, to share home email addresses or telephone numbers for library board candidates -- including incumbents," he said. (More disclosure: Stole Bob's quote from myself, too.)

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So why, I often wonder every time a local election rolls around, couldn't the state legislature simply pass a law or refine the election process and bring it into the 21st Century? Require candidate to provide an email address, and then post all of this on the government's website within a reasonable time frame after the filing deadline expires.

And, yes, I write this with the very self-serving purpose of making the lives of our staffers a little easier. But doesn't that make things better for the public we serve -- providing the citizenry with email access to the people running for their school or library boards?

Could it be no one has changed election law because no one has thought of it?

If so, please consider this a call to arms for all state legislators and other officials with authority on this topic to step forward and do the right thing.

Maybe there's some subtlety or nuance I'm missing but it seems really, really easy -- and such an adjustment should appeal to everyone.

Maybe not as dramatic as solving the state's pension crisis, but one small step for making elections -- and the candidates drawn to them -- a little more accessible.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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