John A "Jack" Cunningham: Candidate Profile
Name: John A "Jack" Cunningham
Office sought: Kane County Clerk
Family: Father of two sons, John and Michael
Occupation: Kane County Clerk and Attorney
Education: BA, MBA, JD
Civic involvement: Did not answer
Elected offices held: Kane County Clerk; Commissioner of Public Properties, City of Aurora; Precinct Committeeman
Questions & Answers
Question 1: How will you evaluate the takeover of elections in Aurora to determine if improvements are needed prior to the next election?
The County Clerk's Office has been preparing for over 10 years for the possibility that the voters of the City of Aurora might decide to abolish the Aurora Election Commission (AEC). A contingency plan was developed over the years and was updated when the issue was placed on the ballot. Discussions involving the Aurora's Mayor and City Council, Kane County Board members and chairman, Kane County State's Attorney, Kendall and Will County Clerks, and other stakeholders to address the possibility of assuming election responsibilities began earlier this year. A letter of intent between the City, County Board and County Clerk outlined the relationship between the parties and set the stage for not only the transition of responsibilities for administering elections but also opening a satellite office in downtown Aurora to provide the services of the Clerk's Office in Aurora. In a few short months, we have added more than 50,000 Aurora voters and 63 precincts to our voter database, inspected Aurora's polling places, issued voter registration cards for voters, trained hundreds of new election judges on our system, begun educating Aurora voters on the new machines, trained former AEC staff on all Clerk's functions, and much more to administer the November election and run a new office in Aurora.
Ultimately, the real test of assessing the process will come through the evaluation of elections. While one Election Day might not fairly measure the success of the entire transition, we know that the November General Election will be a measuring stick. Every election is an experiment. My office has to equip 291 precincts at over 120 different locations with the necessary election judges, equipment and other supplies to run each election in a secure, efficient, and transparent way. We anticipate that with any process the potential for both human error and technical error exists, but with my staff and I have developed a plan to address both of these factors.
We have started and will conduct dozens of certification and recertification classes for both our returning election judges and the new judges joining our team from Aurora. We do our best to prepare the judges for as many potential election scenarios as possible. Surveys are given to judges in order to help evaluate the performance of judges and to learn what can be improved.
We work with Roger Fahnestock, the Kane County Director of IT and his staff to solve technological problems on Election Day. For our first election in Aurora, we will focus our technical team in the southern part of the county to address problems expecting that we will have a learning curve both with voters and our election workers.
Our war room on Election Day will be poised to answer questions from voters and dispatch staff to resolve problems. We monitor all polling places so we are informed when machines malfunction or a polling place experiences a problem. Our system logs every call on Election Day so that we will be aware if a certain area experiences an unusual number of issues. Following Election Day, I will review all of the logged calls as a management tool to evaluate our process. I welcome both praise and problems because we have used constructive criticism as an inspiration for some of our improvements.
Question 2: The county has implemented across-the-board budget cuts in recent years. With the additional expense of the Aurora elections, is it possible for the clerk's office to further reduce expenses? What would be the impact of such cuts to services?
Last year as part of the 2018 budget, I cut $200,000 from my budget to help the county balance the budget. I believe that we should always look for additional ways to reduce expenses and save money for taxpayers because that is the job of a good administrator. During the years in public service, I have successfully managed thousands of employees and multimillion dollar budgets. As Commissioner of Public Properties for the City of Aurora, I was responsible for infrastructure like roads, buildings, water, sewer and utilities. As an attorney and business owner, I have many years of additional management experience in the private sector.
As Clerk, I have remained under budget and returned money to the County each year, while maintaining and even increasing services to Kane County residents. I have been able to do this by reducing expenses and increasing revenue. In recent years, I have eliminated 3 management level positions to save money. My office has also increased revenue to save taxpayer dollars. I have doubled the annual revenue generated by the Clerk's Office from $640,000 when I took office to more than $1.2 million last year. My experience has helped secure millions in grants and resources. When Illinois implemented same-day registration on Election Day, we needed $1.9 million of equipment to meet the unfunded mandate. I secured nearly $500,000 worth of voting machines at no cost through relationships with other clerks, and absorbed remaining costs through long-term planning and office efficiencies. We implemented a passport photography service to generate additional non-property tax based revenue for the County. My office drafted and passed legislation to save nearly $100,000 by reducing excess election workers. I will continue to seek additional sources of revenue and push more state legislation that saves money.
Question 3: There are bills being introduced in Congress that would mandate the use of paper ballot systems and only such systems. Do you support that movement? Is that the best way to ensure ballot integrity?
I support legislation that ensures ballot integrity. Kane County's election systems have a voter verifiable paper trail which records the voter's selections on paper. These machines promote accessibility for voters with limited vision and mobility, as well as other disabilities, which would not be possible with traditional paper only ballots.
Question 4: Would you support the opening of a satellite office for the clerk in Elgin? Is the cost of such an office justified by benefits to Elgin area residents? Should the city of Elgin contribute to the costs of opening and running such an office?
Elgin has one of the largest populations of senior citizens in the state, and I understand that the burden of traveling from the north end of the county to Geneva, especially for seniors, is a concern. We have had discussions with the Elgin city government regarding a satellite office. While we agree that it is a good idea, the issue is the cost to the taxpayers of Kane County. My office has conducted studies to measure the customer base from both Aurora and Elgin and found that satellite offices would help to serve the populations in both ends of the county. The satellite office in Aurora which opened this year was the result of the agreement between the Aurora and Kane County, which included significant contributions from the City of Aurora.
Our office has increased accessibility to services outside of the main Geneva office through the Clerk's Accessibility Program (CAP). Part of the CAP included a Mobile Clerk's Office which brought the Clerk's Office to Elgin and Dundee Townships. We have held Saturday passport events to increase access for residents who are not able to come to the office during normal business hours and had overwhelming turnout from residents. Our expanded social media presence has provided more resources to residents 24 hours a day. We have increased the number of early voting sites to 29 in the November election to promote accessibility. Our latest initiative allows residents applying for a marriage license to complete the most time consuming portion of the application, the questionnaire, online with a computer or mobile device. This initiative will save time for residents and will reduce the amount of staff time to complete applications. We are also considering the expansion of Clerk's services into Elgin and other areas through the use of kiosks.
Question 5: Would you support combining the offices of the county clerk with the county recorder to reduce overall costs?
If I had data to show that combining the offices will save taxpayer dollars, I would consider supporting the consolidation of the Clerk's and Recorder's Offices. As I have done by eliminating 3 management positions in my office to save tax dollars, I have demonstrated my ability to promote efficiencies in the Clerk's Office. However, before making a decision to support such a proposal, I would need some numbers to show that it will reduce costs.