DuPage County chair suggests stripping clerk of election duties after budget fights
More than four years after the DuPage County Election Commission was merged with the county clerk's office, some officials are suggesting it might be time to unwind that decision.
County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek is facing a cascade of criticism from both fellow Democrats and Republicans on the county board over unpaid bills from vendors, employee pay raises and the way she runs her office.
It all came to a head Tuesday when county board Chair Deborah Conroy said she's asked DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin to investigate whether the election division can be removed from the clerk's office.
County board members had state law changed in 2018 to allow them to dissolve the commission and return its functions to the clerk's office.
Conroy said she's willing to seek new legislation that would undo the merger and put election oversight powers back under the "supervision and control of the DuPage County Board." Conroy said she would try to get the issue before state lawmakers in the veto session if necessary.
For decades, DuPage had operated differently from other counties across the state by having a commission -- not the county clerk's office -- oversee elections. Dan Cronin, the former country board chairman, sought the merger as a part of a cost-saving effort to consolidate and streamline local government. Cronin also cited serious problems in previous elections, including a blunder that delayed primary results for hours.
Then a state lawmaker, Conroy filed the House bill that ultimately gave the county board authority to disband the election commission. Kaczmarek oversaw the transition after she won election in 2018 on a platform backing the merger.
"Can we repeal that and re-form an election commission?" board member James Zay asked Tuesday.
Kaczmarek came under fire last month for unpaid bills due to a lack of funds in specific budget line items, while she is challenging the board's authority over them -- including in a prepared statement to the board's finance committee Tuesday that she read without taking questions. She left immediately afterward, and Chief Deputy Clerk Adam Johnson said the office had no further comment.
Conroy said she is concerned about the "level of anger and lack of trust" between the board and clerk's office. Conroy said taking control of the election division would help ensure it is running properly and following county accounting procedures. According to county board members, the majority of the 11 bills that were unpaid last month dealt with election-related expenses.
County financial officials also say projections show that the salaries line item will go over budget this fall.
"She's not doing her job, and it seems to me that we need to start thinking about options going forward to change the situation instead of just wringing our hands about what's going on," board member Grant Eckhoff said.
The election division has a budgeted head count of 24 full-time employees. The county's 2023 fiscal year budget set aside $4.14 million for the election division.
Previous state law required that both political parties were represented on a three-person election commission board. All the members were appointed by the county board chair.