Cronin: DuPage can't afford county clerk's big requested budget increase for elections

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin says he can't support a "dramatic" budget increase for the clerk's office, despite calls from seven League of Women Voters chapters to provide additional election funding.

Cronin next week is scheduled to present his proposed county budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1. As part of his proposal, he will recommend how much money Clerk Jean Kaczmarek should get for her office.

While he hasn't decided on the final amount, Cronin said it will be less than the nearly $9 million Kaczmarek is requesting.

"We just can't do it," said Cronin, adding he was surprised by Kaczmarek's "pie in the sky" request. "I'm not going to give her a blank check. I've never done that. I'm not going to start now."

Kaczmarek last month presented the first budget request for the clerk's office since it merged in January with the former DuPage Election Commission.

When it comes to the "traditional" part of the clerk's office, Kaczmarek wants $1.12 million in fiscal 2020. That amount is slightly more than it is receiving this year.

However, the Glen Ellyn Democrat wants to more than double the budget for her election division to $7.84 million for fiscal 2020 from $3.63 million this year. The request is roughly $2 million more than the election commission spent in fiscal 2016, the last time there was a presidential election.

Kaczmarek says the increase is needed because voter turnout in 2020 is predicted to be historic.

Under her proposed budget, Kaczmarek wants to hire more election judges for both the primary and general elections. She also wants to increase the pay of election judges.

To hire up to 4,000 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 also wants more money to buy new equipment and avoid the problems that have plagued DuPage elections in recent years.

Her budget request is being supported by all seven League of Women Voters chapters in DuPage.

In a joint letter, the chapters from Aurora, the Downers Grove area, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Roselle/Bloomingdale and Wheaton said the county board "must approve adequate funding for elections in the 2020 county budget."

"Predictions are for record high voter turnout in 2020," the letter reads. "DuPage County needs to be ready for its voters."

Kaczmarek says she's appreciates the League of Women Voters' "commitment to assuring that elections are properly funded and making democracy work."

Cronin says the administration of elections is a priority for him and the county board, but the county simply can't afford to give the clerk's office millions of dollars in additional funding.

He said Sheriff James Mendrick already is seeking $50.4 million next year - an increase of roughly $5.3 million over what his department is receiving this year.

"I've got the sheriff's office and his request," he said. "I've got the circuit court clerk and some of the challenges with collecting money through the old system there. There are other issues."

Cronin, an Oak Brook Republican, said he pushed for merging the election commission with the clerk's office to save money. The expectation, he said, was that the clerk would find savings by pursuing operational reforms, cross-training the staff and reducing head count through attrition.

"I did not expect that it would be this dramatic increase and a dramatic budgetary demand," Cronin said.

He said he agrees DuPage needs better technology for elections. But he says it's probably going to take multiple budget years to get all new equipment.

"Let's be judicious," Cronin said. "We'll implement these things incrementally. And we'll fulfill our duties and our obligations, and every vote will be counted."

After Cronin presents his budget proposal, county board members will have until Nov. 30 to review the spending plan, make revisions and approve it.

Jean Kaczmarek
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