Legislation to disband DuPage County election commission clears Illinois Senate

DuPage County will gain the power to disband the county election commission if Gov. Bruce Rauner signs legislation now on his desk.

The Illinois Senate on Friday unanimously approved the legislation that would amend the Election Code to allow DuPage County to dissolve its election commission and transfer its functions to the county clerk's office. The state House approved the measure last month.

"This is a major step forward for DuPage County government," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said Friday. "We're streamlining an operation that's been around for a while and is antiquated."

Cronin praised the state lawmakers who sponsored the legislation, including state Rep. Deb Conroy and state Sen. Tom Cullerton, both Villa Park Democrats.

"It was a bipartisan effort," he said. "I'm thrilled."

Cronin said he expects Rauner to "enthusiastically" sign the legislation, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

"He has been a very strong proponent of consolidation," Cronin said. "He has been very supportive of our efforts. Frankly, he has helped set the tone that allowed this bill to pass."

Election oversight power was stripped from the DuPage clerk's office in the early 1970s to create the election commission. The state law that formed the commission required both major political parties be represented on a three-person election panel; Republicans currently hold two of the three seats.

But Cronin says there have been serious problems during the past three elections, including a blunder that delayed results for hours during the March primary. He said folding the election commission into the clerk's office is a more efficient and accountable approach.

Roughly 56 percent of the voters in March supported a nonbinding ballot question to dissolve the commission.

The clerk's office sends out property tax bills and handles other documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates. It's run by Paul Hinds, a Republican, and has 18 employees.

The election commission is run by Executive Director Joseph Sobecki and has 23 employees. It also pays the salaries of the three election commissioners who each receive $27,500 a year.

It's estimated 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.

Before seeking the state law change, Cronin had discussions with Hinds and Cathy Ficker Terrill, the chairman of the election commission board.

On Friday, Ficker Terrill issued a statement thanking Hinds and Cronin. "Together, we have always tried to put the needs of our residents and voters first," she said.

She said the commission is committed to providing "excellent voter services through the fall election."

"After the November results are certified," she said, "we will work closely with the clerk's office to ensure a smooth transition."

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