DuPage County misses deadline to approve new precinct maps

DuPage County Board members have missed a state-imposed deadline for redrawing election precinct maps.

Election officials and county board members are now pointing fingers at each other, with the blown deadline also exposing a rift among Democrats.

An elections omnibus bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in November gave county boards a 60-day deadline to set new boundaries so that each precinct would contain as close to 1,200 registered voters "as may be practicable." The legislation also required precincts to sit within a single congressional and state legislative district whenever possible.

Precinct boundaries determine polling places where voters cast in-person ballots. Democratic and Republican committeemen, the foot soldiers of local political parties, also are elected from precincts every two years.

The DuPage County clerk's office proposed a reconfiguration that would have expanded the size of precincts while reducing their overall number - from 930 to 607 - to comply with the law.

But in a 10-6 vote last week the day before the Jan. 15 deadline, Republicans and some Democrats on the county board rejected the precinct maps drawn by the clerk's office. Opponents in both parties objected to what they said was a lack of input in the precinct redistricting process.

County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek and supporters say the decision could leave the county vulnerable to a lawsuit that would attempt to force the board to meet the requirements of state law.

"The decision of some DuPage County Board members of both parties to openly defy state law and prioritize politics over voting rights is deeply disappointing. Precincts exist as an organizational unit for the benefit of the voters, not for politicians," Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat, said in a statement.

Election division employees in her office drafted new precinct boundaries "without political favoritism," the statement read. The maps were released to county board members just days before they were supposed to vote. The proposed maps also were posted on the county's website and "provided directly to the chairs of the DuPage County Democratic and Republican parties."

"The county board's failure to align DuPage County's election precincts with the boundaries of its representative districts will cause inconvenience and confusion for voters and increase the cost of elections for our taxpayers," Kaczmarek said in the statement.

Jim Zay, the board's longest-serving member and chairman of the county Republican Party, said he had been asking the election division "from the end of November on" when officials would be able to see the maps.

"And then finally, I was told you have to send an email to request to see them," Zay said.

GOP precinct committeemen weren't happy with the proposal, Zay said.

"You had a lot of long-term committeemen that have been there where two or three of them were now drawn into the same precinct," he said.

Lynn LaPlante, a Glen Ellyn Democrat, also expressed frustration with the "lack of communication."

Board member Grant Eckhoff issued his own statement voicing displeasure with both state lawmakers and Kaczmarek, saying officials refused "to be bullied into a bad vote by the garbage legislation coming out of Springfield."

"Due to the state legislature passing legislation to require an amended map in November instead of the spring, the clerk only had 60 days to prepare the map," said Eckhoff, a Wheaton Republican. "The map was released to the DuPage County Board and the public just five days before a vote was to be taken on the map.

"Unfortunately, prior to the release, the clerk did not meet with board members or make a presentation to discuss the map. This is not the manner in which legislation should be presented to the board or the public for review and comment."

But board member Liz Chaplin disputed the notion that some board members were blindsided by the legislation. In an October meeting attended by Republicans and Democrats, the county's lobbyists told the board's legislative committee about an effort in Springfield to increase the precinct size from 600 to at least 1,200 residents.

"The county board in my opinion dropped the ball, and for the members to say that they didn't know this was coming, I'm astounded," Chaplin said.

Chaplin voted in support of the maps along with fellow Democrats Dawn DeSart, Paula Deacon Garcia, Julie Renehan, Greg Schwarze and Mary Ozog.

As part of the county's legislative agenda, board members made a priority of "giving local election jurisdictions the flexibility to increase the size of election precincts," Chaplin said.

"In our last two years, in 2020 and 2021, that language was in our legislative agenda," Chaplin said. "Now, I don't know if my fellow colleagues don't read their packets or understand what they're voting on, but we absolutely did do that."

Having fewer precincts and fewer Election Day polling places would have resulted in a costs savings, said Chaplin, chair of the finance committee.

The existing boundaries will now remain in place as other counties move forward with precinct redistricting. Primary elections will be held June 28.

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