DuPage County may seek referendum to dissolve election commission
Saying he's done waiting for Springfield to provide another option, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin is prepared to seek voter approval to dissolve the county election commission.
Cronin had been counting on state lawmakers to adopt legislation that would 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 -- sponsored by Republican state Sen. Chris Nybo of Elmhurst and Democratic state Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park -- has gotten bogged down in the Illinois House since being approved in early May by the state Senate. Last week, the proposal was referred back to the rules committee.
"The bill is complicated, and it got caught up with a lot of other issues," Cronin said Monday.
So Cronin said he's not going to wait to see what happens with the legislative proposal.
"We can't afford to," the Elmhurst Republican said. "We believe it's in the best interest of the taxpayers that we move forward."
Cronin said he's prepared to pursue a binding referendum 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.
"I'm ready to dissolve the election commission and hand over all of the responsibilities for running elections and administering elections to the county clerk," Cronin said.
The clerk's office is overseen by Paul Hinds, who is a Republican and would become the sole election authority.
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.
County officials have been told the election commission could be dissolved with a binding referendum. But the county can't form a bipartisan election commission board without a state law change.
One of the obstacles facing the proposed state law is that Democratic leaders in DuPage have criticized it. For example, they didn't like the proposed process to appoint election commissioners. They've also voiced concern about the suggested salaries of the commissioners.
Cronin, meanwhile, said he wants a consolidation of the election commission and the clerk's office because it's expected to save taxpayers at least $300,000 a year. The savings would be achieved by combining staffs and finding efficiencies.
"My priority is -- and always has been -- savings for the taxpayers," Cronin said. "If we can do the same quality service more efficiently and save taxpayers money, that's the direction we should take."
Before taking any steps to dissolve the election commission, Cronin said he first would have a "robust discussion" with county board members.
"I want to make sure we do it properly," Cronin said.
Even if the election commission is disbanded, Cronin said he won't abandon the idea of someday having an election oversight panel for DuPage.
"I think bipartisan oversight is a virtue," he said. "So I'm not giving up on that."
But he said the idea could be revisited when state lawmakers aren't dealing with debates about taxes, the budget and other significant issues.
"Apparently, they've got bigger fish to fry," Cronin said. "So let's do our business and not wait for them. We'll get back to this oversight after we dissolve the election commission and after we fold it into the clerk's office."