McHenry County lawmakers make push to abolish local election boards

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Several McHenry County lawmakers want to take away most local governments’ power to hear objections to election petitions.

House Bill 2472, filed Tuesday by Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, seeks to abolish electoral boards for municipalities, townships and community colleges, and transfer the duty of hearing ballot objections to county electoral boards.

She said that in many cases, lack of knowledge of election law or outright political reasons translate to unfair treatment of objections to candidacies for local races.

The state changed the law starting with the 2015 election to abolish electoral boards for school boards, but other governments were removed from the legislation under pressure from their Springfield lobbying groups.

“In these local races, many times people can’t look at the matter objectively and have biases for and against candidates,” Wheeler said.

Gilberts Village President Rick Zirk, a longtime friend of Wheeler’s, approached her about changing the law. He said he has seen too many cases where local electoral boards either are overwhelmed by legal technicalities or deny ballot access for sheer partisan political reasons.

“When you have political people who have a vested interest sitting in judgment … it just doesn’t seem like the right mixture. It sounds like a bad system to me,” Zirk said.

Zirk said the last straw for him was an objection filed against the petition of Margaret Sanders, the incumbent supervisor of Rutland Township, the Kane County township where Gilberts is located.

The electoral board of the township, where trustees and Sanders have had an acrimonious working relationship, voted, 2-1, in late December to remove her from the ballot based on allegations that she tampered with her candidacy paperwork after filing it.

Sanders’ attorney called the electoral board a “kangaroo court” and filed for relief in a real court, where a Kane County judge last month promptly threw out the board’s ruling and put Sanders back on the ballot.

McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan strongly favors abolishing the local electoral boards and having her office take on the extra work. The three-member county electoral board, which hears objections to petitions for county offices and school boards, consists of the county clerk and one representative each from the state’s attorney’s and circuit clerk’s offices.

Besides the chances of unfair treatment, McClellan said, a lot of smaller electoral boards either do not have the information needed to make the right decisions or meet so infrequently that they cannot do so.

“I think it’s a great idea to bring everything into the [county] clerk’s office. Does this put everything on us? Yes, but we’re prepared to do that, and because we do it so frequently, I think it better serves the election cycle,” McClellan said.

Wheeler said she does not know whether her bill will make it out of the House Rules Committee, which is where bills either get assigned to the proper committees for hearings or stay to die. She said bills that buck the political system face long odds in the General Assembly.

“One thing we know about Illinois is that things are orchestrated to give the advantage to a certain party or the incumbent,” Wheeler said. “I don’t think they’ll undo that choreography.”

Local Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, whose district includes Gilberts, is the bill’s chief co-sponsor.