One day after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation that allows the DuPage County Clerk's Office to absorb the functions of the county’s Election Commission, County Clerk Paul Hinds talked about his new responsibilities.
"It now becomes my job to administer the elections and make sure they are accurate and secure," he said.
Hinds has had some time to prepare for his new duties. The General Assembly unanimously approved the bill in the spring after DuPage County voters in March approved an advisory referendum question on the consolidation.
His office will not oversee the November 2018 elections, as the legislation does not take effect until January 2019. But Hinds will work with the Election Commission during the transition to establish best practices, he said.
"It's a merger," Hinds said, adding he will supervise 18 to 20 individuals who currently work for the Election Commission.
A person in charge of the clerk's election division will oversee the operations, he said.
Rauner signed the bill July 23 at the DuPage County Government Center in Wheaton, where he was joined by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, members of the County Board and area state legislators.
“This is another step in the right direction for Illinois,” Rauner said in a news release from his office. “We need to continue to root out duplicative layers of government that serve only to burden taxpayers and hinder businesses."
The merger is expected to save taxpayers $300,000 annually.
“DuPage County has spent several years working toward this consolidation,” Cronin said in a county news release. “With the support of voters and help from our DuPage legislators, we have advanced another good government reform that will save taxpayers money.”
Cost savings will be realized in various ways, Hinds said. For example, there will no longer be an Election Commission chairman or members. Additionally, the Clerk's Office will rely on the DuPage County State's Attorney's Office for legal services, as well as the county's communications and IT teams.
Election security will be Hinds' primary concern following reports the Illinois State Board of Elections was the subject of Russian hacking in 2016.
"That's the No. 1 issue during the transition," he said. "We have secure servers. The servers stand alone. I've been told there's [federal] money available to us to enhance our security."
He added staff training is the key to ensuring secure elections.
County Board member Liz Chapin, D-Downers Grove, said cost saving is not the only benefit of the consolidation.
“Everyone keeps talking about the savings, but that is not the important part of the story,” Chapin said. “The big part of the story is that the DuPage electoral process will be independent just like 99 other counties in the state.”
In 2017, legislation was introduced that would have created a hybrid board whose members would be appointed by the board chairman. County Democrats opposed that measure, Chapin said.
State Reps. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, and David Olsen, R-Downers Grove, co-sponsored the bill.
“Nearly every county in Illinois already allows the Clerk’s Office to handle election responsibilities, so there’s no reason for DuPage County taxpayers to foot the extra bill for an unnecessary commission,” Breen said in the release from Rauner's office.
State Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, agreed.
“With this consolidation, DuPage County will be able to administer elections cost-effectively and better mitigate any possible errors in the election process,” Nybo said in the release.
Nybo’s colleague, state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, said the legislation will allow the county’s election process to be more streamlined and fiscally responsible.
“Back when I was serving on the County Board, we pushed hard to eliminate duplicative layers of government in a focused effort to reduce waste and increase efficiency in our county government,” Curran said in the release.
The new law also was championed by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park.
“Consolidating redundant functions of government streamlines services and saves vital taxpayer dollars,” Cullerton said in a news release from his office. “This new law will empower DuPage County residents to decide how their government works. This is a win for everyone.”