Huge voter turnout in 2020 could mean huge costs for DuPage County

DuPage election officials say voter turnout in 2020 is predicted to be historic, which could be very expensive for the county.

County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek is asking to more than double the budget for her election division to $7.84 million for fiscal 2020 from $3.63 million this year.

Her request is roughly $2 million more than the election commission spent in fiscal 2016, the last time there was a presidential election.

"I've got to tell you, the increases ... are eye-popping," county board member Tim Elliott said after hearing Kaczmarek's budget presentation.

County board members have been meeting with elected officials and department heads to begin work on DuPage's new budget that takes effect Dec. 1.

Kaczmarek also wants $1.12 million in fiscal 2020 to fund the "traditional" part of the clerk's office, which sends out property tax bills and handles documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates. That amount is slightly more than it is receiving this year.

This is the first budget request for the clerk's office since it merged in January with the former DuPage Election Commission.

Kaczmarek says she discovered a variety of problems with the election commission's equipment after the merger. For example, election judges at DuPage's early voting sites and 268 polling places have been using aging flip phones that need to be replaced. That expenditure alone is estimated to cost $120,000.

"How do you keep a budget flat when you must start from scratch?" the Glen Ellyn Democrat said.

Then there's Kaczmarek's desire to hire more election judges for both the primary and general elections. She also wants to increase the pay of election judges.

"They have not received a raise since 2009," she said. "Most judges receive $130 for a 16-hour day, which comes out to $8.12 per hour."

Under her proposed budget, Kaczmarek wants election judges to be paid $11.25 an hour.

She also wants judges to receive $20 for setting up their polling place the night before an election. Right now, they get nothing for that work.

To hire additional judges and give them pay raises, the clerk's office needs $3.15 million - $1.85 million more than the election commission spent on election judges during fiscal 2016.

Kaczmarek said more election judges are needed because voter turnout next fall could exceed 65 percent nationwide.

"Voter turnout in 2020 is predicted to be historic," she said, adding that up to 4,000 election judges are needed.

She also wants to avoid the problems that have plagued DuPage elections in recent years.

"It's time to put that era behind us all," Kaczmarek told county board members. "I ask this board to make a bipartisan commitment to investing the resources required to restore DuPage elections to the quality this county's voters deserve."

Still, Elliott said Kaczmarek's requested budget for the clerk's office "is a huge, huge ask."

"Combining the election commission into the clerk's office was supposed be a cost savings," said Elliott, a Glen Ellyn Republican.

No decision was made on the budget request.

Chairman Dan Cronin is scheduled to present his proposed county budget to the board Sept. 24. Cronin will consider information from the budget discussions when drafting the overall spending plan.

County board members have until Nov. 30 to approve a budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

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