DuPage voters to decide if election commission should be dissolved

DuPage County voters soon will weigh in on a proposal to disband the county election commission and return its responsibilities to the clerk's office.

County board members on Tuesday agreed to put an advisory referendum question about the issue on the March primary ballot. The decision comes after state lawmakers failed to act on legislation to merge the commission with the county clerk's office and create a new panel to provide bipartisan oversight of elections.

"Let's just go to a full-fledged consolidation," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said after the vote. "Fold it into the clerk's office."

Election oversight power was stripped from the clerk's office in the early 1970s to create the election commission. Cronin said he's hoping DuPage voters overwhelmingly support the nonbinding ballot question to dissolve the commission.

"We want to professionalize and increase the competency and performance of this operation," he said. "Folding it into the clerk's office, we think, offers us that opportunity."

According to the resolution approved Tuesday, the question on the ballot will read, "Should the DuPage County Election Commission be dissolved and its functions be consolidated with the office of the DuPage County Clerk?"

If voters agree, Cronin said he'll take the election results to state lawmakers and urge them to act.

"We've got to get the referendum question that will give us the mandate to go down there to Springfield and ask the legislators," he 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.

Another state law change is the easiest way to undo the election commission.

While it could be done through a binding referendum, DuPage doesn't have the authority to do so because it doesn't have home rule power.

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.

On Tuesday, both Hinds and Kaczmarek said they support taking the merger idea to voters.

"For over a decade, I have been calling for returning the election commission back to the county clerk's office as it's done in 100 other Illinois counties," Kaczmarek said. "This progress follows years of a single, steady drumbeat."

If election oversight is returned to the clerk's office, Hinds said he would be prepared for that transition.

"It's something that we're ready to go ahead and do," he said.

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.

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