Move revived to disband Aurora Election Commission
Saying he could give Aurora voters better service at half the price, Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham spoke Thursday in support of disbanding the Aurora Election Commission.
Cunningham told a committee of county board members he discussed with Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin what would be involved with abolishing the commission. They agreed having the county run the city's elections would be best, he said.
The city and the county both fund the commission's budget. At various points, the city has kicked in more than $500,000 for its share. The county's portion of the bill has totaled as much as $600,000.
Cunningham, an Aurora resident, said he hates the double taxation.
"I'm not only paying to fund the commission in my Aurora taxes, I'm also paying it in my county taxes," he said.
Aurora sits within DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties. All Aurora residents pay taxes to the city to fund the Aurora Election Commission and to a county for separate election services. But they only actually use one of those election services.
Petitions are circulating to get a question on the March ballot to disband the commission. Cunningham said that means the county must be ready to take over as soon as the November 2018 election.
"We have to let the citizens of Aurora decide what they want to do with something they put in place," Cunningham said. "They voted it in; they have to vote it out. But as far as costs, we run our elections for about half of what they pay for theirs."
County board members from Aurora asked Cunningham to back up that statement with hard numbers next month. He promised to do so and include what it might cost to create a satellite clerk's office in Aurora. That might alleviate concerns about disenfranchising voters.
The satellite office would bring the full services of the clerk's main office in Geneva to downtown Aurora. Services include marriage licenses, birth and death certificates, and passport application processing. Even with adding the new office, Cunningham said he believes the costs will be far cheaper than funding the Aurora commission.
"We'll handle it as economically as possible," Cunningham said. "We've been working on this idea several years."
Disbanding the commission is a topic that comes up every couple of years and has resulted in at least one unsuccessful ballot question in 1986. More recently, Aurora Election Commission Vice Chairman Mike McCoy, a former county board chairman, has described the commission as less necessary than when originally created. McCoy said Thursday the counties may do a more efficient job, but voters should have the final say.
All of those are more reasons Aurora Alderman Carl Franco said the outcome of the push to abolish the commission will be different. Franco, who said he's had personal negative experiences with the commission, is circulating petitions to get the question before voters.
The 1986 question failed, he said, because the wording was too confusing. This time, the question will include plain-language wording. And a March question leaves nearly six months for voters to do their homework on the commission and whether getting rid of it is a good idea.
Franco anchors his support in the idea of a financial win for all. He said the double taxation isn't just an Aurora and Kane County problem.
"If we could do all this for cheaper, or nothing, here in Aurora, then it's a no-brainer to me," Franco said.
Critics of the plan have cited the potential for undo influence on Aurora elections by Kane County officials and fears of voter suppression through limited access to polling places. Franco said having Kane County take over and provide a satellite office as well as, possibly, a mobile voter truck will enhance voting opportunities in Aurora.
"Bottom line is we're all going to have six months to figure this out and decide," Franco said. "If I find out between now and then the commission is a good thing and the best option, I'll vote against the ballot question."
Kane County Board member Don Ishmael, who represents part of Aurora, is already not a fan.
"The city is just trying to shift the financial burden to us at the county," Ishmael said. "And the clerk says he can put a satellite office down there. That doesn't mean he will. There's been some hiccups with the commission, but it's not at a level where it couldn't improve if people started working together. If this change would be cost-neutral, I'll support it. But I don't think it's going to be cost-neutral."