DuPage clerk candidates don't want to rush election commission merger

Both candidates for DuPage County clerk in the Nov. 6 election say they support plans to eliminate the county's election commission and return its duties to the clerk's office.

But both Republican incumbent Paul Hinds of Villa Park and Democratic challenger Jean Kaczmarek of Glen Ellyn say they'd prefer to have the changeover take place after the April election to give them more time to prepare.

As of now, the county board plans to vote on the proposal in mid-January with the merger to take effect immediately.

"I feel there's a strong argument to be made that it should be done after the certification of the municipal consolidated races (in April)," Kaczmarek said during a recent endorsement session with the Daily Herald.

The clerk's office currently is responsible for sending out property tax bills and handling other documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates. Overseeing elections soon will be added to that list.

Election oversight power was stripped from the clerk's office in the early 1970s to create the election commission. However, there have been serious problems during the past three elections, including a blunder that delayed results for hours during the spring primary.

So county board members got state law changed to allow them to dissolve the election commission and return its functions to the clerk's office. With the change taking effect Jan. 1, the county board's vote to disband the commission is expected on Jan. 15.

Hinds said he anticipates the transition will begin soon after the vote. But if that happens, he said, there won't be enough time for the clerk to make wholesale changes to the combined office before the April 2 election.

"It's not fair to whoever the county clerk is to say, 'Fix it in one month and get a whole new system up and running,'" said Hinds, who spent 18 years working for the clerk's office before being elected in 2014.

He said it's "probably better" to hold off on the transition until after the spring election.

Hinds and Kaczmarek both say DuPage's structure for running elections has been in place for decades, so waiting a few extra months isn't going to make much of a difference.

Kaczmarek said one reason to support a delay is because work on the April election already has begun.

"The petitions are going to be filed very soon," she said. "The ballot disputes will be starting probably in December and going into January. So whoever is the county clerk is going to be inheriting that. I am not sure that's really fair."

Kaczmarek said the clerk should be actively involved in discussions about the transition.

If she wins, Kaczmarek said she wants to immediately assume the role of chairman of the election commission.

The 1973 state law that formed the election commission required both political parties be represented on the three-person election commission board. Republicans hold two of the three seats.

Until the election commission is disbanded, Kaczmarek said the clerk can serve as chairman of the election commission board. "I think that would be an excellent way to start the transition," she said.

But Hinds said he doesn't believe the county board wants to delay the transition until after the April election because of the commission's recent mistakes.

"They're frustrated by what they're seeing," Hinds said. "They would do it (the transition) today if they could."

Kaczmarek, who has been publicly calling for the merger since 2013, said she understands why there's frustration. Still, she says the change should happen slowly.

"Just because people are frustrated doesn't mean it should be expedited," she said. "It needs to be done well."

Jean Kaczmarek
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