Cook County Clerk David Orr: Illinois Needs to Overhaul Its Elections

Cook County Clerk David Orr has some simple ways to boost democracy and to avoid a repeat of the March primary debacle that surrounded the Cook County assessor’s race.

There were two candidates vying to unseat incumbent Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. One of those candidates, Andrea Raila, was tossed from the ballot for petition irregularities. But her name had already been printed on ballots and those ballots had also been distributed to polling places. In an effort to correct the confusion, people staffing polling places were instructed to tell voters that a vote for Raila wouldn’t count.

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But a mere six days before the election -- and after early voting had already started -- Raila succeeded in her appeal and she was back on the ballot. In the end, both Raila and Berrios lost to political neophyte Fritz Kaegi.

Orr suggests expanding the time between candidate filing and the primary election by two weeks to allow the appeal process to finish before the ballots are printed and sent out.

The Cook County clerk also proposes delaying Election Day, but since the process is decided by legislators, pushing that back may not gain traction.

Orr also recommends lowering the number of signatures on candidate filling petitions to 5,000 and digitizing the process of collecting signatures.

His full list of recommendations is copied below.

Clerk Orr Issues Proposals on Petition and Ballot Access Reform

My office has pushed to consolidate and professionalize the administration of electoral boards for years. And while we have achieved some important reforms, like moving many small local boards to the jurisdiction of the County Clerk, more changes need to be made. We believe we can make these changes in part by harnessing the power of other election officials’ innovations to further expand access to the ballot.

Below are three modest reforms to the candidate filing and electoral board process that will help ensure that voters, administrators and candidates are best positioned to play their part in democracy. Through these efforts, we can increase the efficiency of the process for candidates and administrators, lower the burden on candidates and give the courts adequate time to sort through all issues.

• Increase Process Efficiency – In Denver and D.C., the petition process has moved from paper forms to tablets and we are ready here to allow petition circulating to be conducted in person, but with digital tools. The Denver Elections product, called eSign, is ready for Cook County.

Like Election Day Registration, this can be piloted in Cook County so we can refine it for all of Illinois. We advocate making it available for candidates running for Cook County offices and local schools, parks, libraries and other districts wholly within suburban Cook County.

eSign is a mobile application that enables candidates to gather signatures in person, but digitally, with real time feedback on whether the voter is registered or lives in the political district – and it allows signers to update their voter registrations on the spot. In Denver’s 2015 municipal election, 97% of eSign signatures collected were accepted.

That’s up from about half that are usually considered good after adjudication here in Cook County.  This is a huge win for candidates, for election administrators, and most importantly, for voters.

• Lower the Burden on Candidates, Save Time and Money – It’s time to lower the filing requirements for countywide offices in Cook County. It is not necessary to require more signatures for Water Commissioner or Clerk than we require for the Governor of our entire state. We call for a limit on the minimum number of signatures required for any countywide to be equal to the minimum required for Governor.  I also call for a cap on the total number of signatures a candidate can file to three times the minimum – similar to candidates for state office.

Currently for all countywide offices in Cook, petitions must be signed by at least .5% of the vote cast for the candidate of his/her party who received the highest number of votes in the county at the 2016 General Election. For Cook County Clerk, for example, that meant a Democratic candidate must have collected at least 8,200 signatures. In comparison, to run for Illinois Governor, candidates needed only 5,000.  Our change would mean that Countywide candidates would need 5,000 good signatures, and could file no more than 15,000.

This would lower the burden of collection and shift the burden of proof to campaigns, prior to filing. This saves campaigns time, and saves taxpayers and election officials money. It also helps ensure that when it’s time to vote, voters are presented with the final ballot, free of notices.

• Change the Calendar & Move the Primary Date – I am calling for an increase in time by two weeks between filing and Primary Election Day. This change, coupled with the others should ensure that courts have adequate time to give due process to candidates contesting electoral board decisions. It also helps ensure that administrators can safely remove or replace candidates on the ballot without relying on notices.

This calendar change is best coupled with a move of the Primary Election to May or later. The election calendar is already too long – it promotes what are effectively endless campaigns. With the current calendar design, interested challengers must have made a decision, built a campaign and fundraised at least 15 months in advance of the actual election. This is not good for our democracy.

Related stories:

Kaegi Knocks Off Berrios in Cook County Assessor’s Race

Early Voting Surges in Chicago and Suburban Cook County

Cook County Clerk David Orr on Election Law Changes

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