Election

John Cunningham, Kane County Clerk 2022 Primary Election Questionnaire

John "Jack" Cunningham

Kane County Clerk candidate John Cunningham answered Shaw Local’s election questionnaire for the Kane County Clerk primary election.

Voting ends for the primary election on the evening of June 28.

Full Name: John Cunningham

What office are you seeking? Kane County Clerk

What offices, if any, have you previously held? City of Aurora Board of Commissioners, Republican Precinct Committeeman since 1960

City: Aurora

Occupation: Kane County Clerk, Attorney, Small business owner

Education: Bachelor of Arts; Masters in Business and Public Administration; Juris Doctor

Automated improvements were made during the pandemic to facilitate mail-in ballots and early voting. What else should be done to improve voters’ access to the polls?

As Clerk, I am proud of the work my office has done to improve access to the polls for voters. While we are always looking to increase accessibility of services to Kane County taxpayers in all areas, I believe that our office has taken significant measures to allow for a fair and equal access to voting in Kane County during my time in office.

Our in-person early voting program is one of, if not the largest, among the surrounding counties with 25 early voting sites throughout the county. Kane County’s early voting is universal which means that voters can go to any early voting center in the county, whether it is close to their home, work, or school to vote early. More than 100,000 early in person votes were cast in the Nov. 2020 election, even more than the number of votes cast by mail. I am proud of the Voter Outreach Program (VOP), where we partner with local businesses and governments to promote voter participation, including in-person Early Voting and voter registration. Our VOP partners post messages on their digital signs such as “Vote Early” (and then lists the dates of early voting), or “Don’t forget to vote.” Since we started the VOP, voter participation has increased. Nearly half of Kane County voters now use the in person Early Voting option in general elections, which is more than double the amount before the VOP. Voter turnout numbers in general have also increased since we started the VOP. We continue to look for additional partners to promote elections on their signs to amplify the message. I have plans to expand the VOP to work with to educate the public about voting. Our office already engages in community outreach events regarding elections and the rest of the functions of the Clerk’s Office, and we are hopeful that we can add more community partners who can help provide more avenues for voter education.

Kane County was the first county in Illinois to have a Votemobile, or a mobile precinct which can be used for Early Voting. We are a model for voting access as Lake County recently purchased a Votemobile. Kane County engages 2 Votemobiles as part of our Early Voting program and allows for more voters to have an accessible Early Voting location closer to their home or work. The Votemobile came in handy during the March 2020 when one of our polling locations canceled on the day before the election, and we were able to park the Votemobile outside the polling place so that voters weren’t inconvenienced and had the ability to vote at their neighborhood polling place.

Finally, our voting machines are ADA compliant for our residents who require special assistance. They are highly rated for accessibility. We want to make sure that all voters have the opportunity to vote in the method of their choice and preserve the secrecy of their ballot.

Why do you want to be county clerk?

I am proud of the work that we have done in this office while I have been Clerk. We have been fiscally responsibility to Kane County taxpayers. I have said that we should run the office like a business, and I have done. Despite more unfunded mandates, I have been under budget and returned money to taxpayers every year. When the county was projected to be over budget, I cut my budget by $200k and we lived within our means that year by generating an additional source of non-property tax revenue, offering passport photos for a convenience fee to those applying for passports in our office. I eliminated some management positions and cross trained staff to increase efficiency and maintain a leaner staff. In November 2020, when we faced an unprecedented amount of Vote by Mail (VBM) ballots, we saved taxpayers $700k in postage/staff expenses through efficiency and automation of ballot printing, assembly, and processing. Since the Aurora Election Commission was dissolved in 2018 and we took over running elections in Aurora, we have saved Kane County taxpayers over $1.5 million and more than double that for the taxpayers in Aurora. When I took office, we generated $600k/year in revenue, and last year, we generated $1.55 million. My office continues to seek new non-property tax revenue to relieve the burden on property taxpayers.

We have made tremendous technological advancements in this office. We upgraded the servers and saved the county $500k/year. We selected a new system for automation of vital records and tax extension departments, which has helped reduce staff time and expenses. While the monetary savings and increased efficiency have more than justified the upgrade, an additional benefit of the Devnet system is an additional security safeguard it provides. With this system, we track every vital record, whether issued or voided, to prevent the possibility of a fraudulent birth records from being created. Our voter registration system (VRS) is one of the best in the country and renowned for its functionality and security.

There are a few things I would like to finish in the Clerk’s Office. Over the last 4 years, I’m proud that we opened a satellite office in Aurora. We have made significant progress and look to open a satellite office in Elgin very soon. Second, I would like to move the county forward with the next generation of secure voting equipment during my next term. In 2005, we purchased voting machines with input from the board and community, and I look forward to working with our partners in the next few years. Finally I want to continue to make us the most transparent election authority in Illinois. We scanned all 80,000+ VBM ballots for public review. I installed cameras in VBM processing room each focused on a particular step of the process so that pollwatchers and the public can observe the process. Our website has vital records statistics, election results and other information going back decades. We have scanned and imaged many years of county records and continue to make these available for our residents.

What can you do to ensure that Kane County elections remain fair?

I have always taken election security, and we have worked diligently to have secure and transparent elections. Making sure that all everyone has the right to vote and that their votes are counted are important principles in ensuring that our elections remain fair.

The state legislature passes election laws which govern how the Clerk’s Office administers elections, and our office runs elections pursuant to those laws. By following the law we help to ensure that all voters have the same opportunity to vote and are on equal footing.

Continuing to make sure that our elections are secure and transparent is another way to maintain fair elections. Our entire system, including voting machines and tabulation equipment, is protected by an encrypted private network (not broadcast over the internet). Our certified voting machines have a paper trail to account for all ballots cast, including spoiled ballots. We partner with state/federal cybersecurity agencies to test for vulnerability and protect against potential security threats. We must continue to show the public how we verify that only registered voters who complete an application can receive a VBM ballot. We developed a color-coded system to educate voters how each step of the process works. Bipartisan teams consisting of Republican and Democratic election judges are present at all times when ballots are printed, folded, assembled, scanned, or tabulated. Cameras are focused on all stages of the process for the public to see. Pollwatchers are welcomed so that they can witness the secure election process and instill confidence in the voting public. We use multiple levels of security and documentation for transparency and accuracy. Every ballot is accounted for from printing to tabulation. Voters can use our tracking system to track their ballots from the time the ballots leave the clerk’s office, through each post office and back to the clerk’s office. This added security not only allows the voters to know that their ballots received and their votes were counted but also provides for an additional way to know when ballots were mailed by the voter.

What safeguards are (or will) you put into place to ensure that all citizens are able to exercise their right to vote?

I have already discussed the ways that this office has promoted accessibility in the previous question above.

Another safeguard to ensure that all citizens can exercise their right to vote is the way we verify voter eligibility through our Voter Registration System (VRS) so that we can be sure that all registered voters have the ability to cast a ballot in the legal method of their choice.

For in person voters, election judges verify the voter’s name and signature in the VRS. While state law prohibits election authorities to require a photo ID from a voter, except in certain situations specifically written into the Election Code, we provide voters the opportunity to provide their IL driver’s license or state ID card at the in-person voting location (Early or Election Day). Our electronic pollbooks can scan the barcode on the driver’s license and automatically pull up the voter in the VRS, eliminating any possible human error by the election judge. Then, the election judge compares the voter’s signature to the signature on file in the VRS. Once the voter is verified, the voter is able to vote. All registered voters are given the opportunity to vote. Per state law, the Clerk’s Office allows Kane County voters to register to vote or update their registration through Grace Period or Same Day Registration at the polling place. For voters who exercise the Vote by Mail option, similar safeguards are in place. The voter’s signature on the envelope is scanned and a bipartisan team of both Republican and Democratic judges review the signature to verify that it matches the signature in the VRS. A challenged signature can be cured by the voter with proof of identity, just as can be done at an in-person voting location.

What are your thoughts on the Illinois Freedom of Information Act?

Transparency is very important. I have worked to make our office the most transparent election authority in the state, and we promote transparency in the tax extension and vital records departments as well. FOIA is necessary to allow the public to have access to information about their government. County residents pay taxes and deserve to know how their money is being spent and how their government is being run.

Please state your plan to maintain government transparency.

As Clerk, I have made transparency a hallmark of my time in office. Kane County residents have access to a vast amount of information from the Clerk’s Office, and we continue to expand access to information as part of our transparency initiatives.

In addition to serving as the county’s chief election official, the County Clerk serves several important functions, including registrar of vital records, extending taxes to all parcels in the county and processing redemptions for delinquent taxes, accepting Economic Interest Statements, serving as a passport acceptance facility, among others.

Our office maintains vital records dating back to the 1850s. In addition to scanning and imaging all current documents, we continue to work on imaging decades of records. Statistics related to the number of vital records processed are on the Clerk’s website going back to 1980. We have a public portal for Economic Interests Statements dating back to 2012 when we were one of the first counties in Illinois to allow EIS filers to file online so that the public can view these documents. Our online genealogy site provides access to birth records over 75 years old, marriage records over 50 years old, and death certificate records of more than 20 years, as permitted by state law.

Regarding tax extension, we image all the levies we receive from taxing bodies so that they are available for the public. Our office played a crucial role in bringing the Devnet wedge application to Kane County. When property owners want to find information about their property taxes, print a duplicate bill, or search for information on past bills, they can use this application. Kane County residents can find the information at their fingertips, rather than having to make a phone call or come to the office. Our website offers many services, including requests for copies of vital records, online. We were one of the first counties in Illinois to allow applicants for a marriage license to begin the application process online to save time waiting in line at the office.

Since I have been Clerk, my office has processed over 2 million votes cast by Kane County residents. On our website, you can find the results from all the elections involving those votes. In fact, you can find results for elections run by the Clerk’s Office dating back to 1990. We have also added the results we received from the Aurora Election Commission prior to its dissolution in 2018. All results post-2018 include all Kane County voters. On the website, you will also find historical data regarding the number of voters who have participated through Early Voting and Voting by Mail. We receive many calls from the media and candidates during elections, and often a lot of those questions can be answered by looking at the information we already have posted on our website.

On election night, election results are posted in real time as they are processed. On election night of one of the highest turnout elections in a generation (Nov. 2020), Kane County’s voters had more information about the election and faster than surrounding counties. Within 15 minutes of polls closing, we posted all Early Votes and all the VBM ballots that had been received by the office prior to Election Day. Early and VBM votes made up nearly 75% of the votes cast in that election. By 10pm, all votes cast on Election Day had also been posted. While neighboring counties were still processing VBM ballots for days following the election, Kane County had processed and counted all votes received that had been received to that point.

As part of our continuing efforts to be the most transparent election authority in Illinois, we have installed cameras at all areas in which ballots are being printed, folded, assembled, scanned, or tabulated. Cameras are focused on all stages of the process for the public to see. Observers (pollwatchers) are welcomed in the office so that they can witness the secure election process and instill confidence in the voting public. Election judges will assist observers and members of the public by providing information about the process so that observers understand what is happening. We developed a color-coded system to educate voters how each step of the process works. Bipartisan teams consisting of Republican and Democratic election judges are present at all times when ballots are printed, folded, assembled, scanned, or tabulated. We use multiple levels of security and documentation for transparency and accuracy. Every ballot is accounted for from printing to tabulation. In person voters can verify the accuracy of their votes by confirming the names on the screen match the names on the paper trail. Voters voting by mail can track receipt of their ballot through the ballot tracking system available on the Clerk’s website.