Eye On Illinois: Might be time to update, streamline online state services

Although the race is flying low under the radar of U.S. Senate, gubernatorial and 177 General Assembly elections, it’s worth noting that in 2022, Illinoisans will choose a new secretary of state for the first time since Jesse White claimed the title in 1998.

Electoral history over the past quarter century indicates a Democrat is likely to succeed White, who faced Republican challengers in each of his five reelection bids, but always won by 30 to 40 points each time. Announced candidates include Alexi Giannoulias, who was state treasurer from 2007-2011, and three Chicago City Hall veterans: Alderwoman Pat Dowell, Alderman David Moore and Clerk Anna Valencia.

Moore caught attention in May for floating plans to sell advertising on license plates to raise money for the state. Points for creative thinking, but the proposal raises many questions. Would vehicle owners choose which advertiser could sponsor their plates? Would there be a discount for those who opt in, or would it be mandatory because the plate is the state’s property? Is there any extra space for additional text or images?

Giannoulias had his own idea this week, promoting a “Skip the Line” pre-booked appointment program to be available at every facility statewide online or via phone call. You’ve got to reach the penultimate line of the press release to find the acknowledgement that White’s office already implemented this feature at some offices in the suburbs.

I navigated the system in April to book a slot for a driving test for my teenage son. Finding a time wasn’t simple – trying to avoid school hours probably complicated things – but, eventually, we got an agreeable opening at the Woodstock office. The advance appointment resulted in the easiest in-out I’ve experienced in the suburbs, reminiscent of painless drop-ins at smaller offices in places such as Ottawa and Chadwick.

But rather than just expanding White’s program across the secretary of state network, the real innovation in modern efficiency would be scaling it across all applicable state offices. Illinois already lacks uniformity in its online presence – even the URLs for agencies have wide variety, let alone the websites – to say nothing of offline redundancies, an unsurprising element of such a dense administrative state.

Saving taxpayers’ time unfortunately involves upfront investment, but if we’re going to bother, it may as well be a comprehensive effort.

Culinary Checklist: I’ve invited readers to share favorite menu items from Illinois restaurants to create a collaborative “must-eat” list for summer road trips. Today’s comes from Streator native Benna Hermanson, who has three hometown favorites: the breaded pork tenderloin and homemade pies at Country Cupboard, the burgers (and also tenderloins) at 318 Restaurant and the Baja fish tacos at Jackpots. Share your favorites via email or social media.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.