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Exit Interview: Cook County Clerk David Orr


After nearly 40 years in Chicago politics, Cook County Clerk David Orr is calling it quits.

Orr’s final day is Friday. On Saturday, Karen Yarbrough takes over the office. According to state law, the clerk shall take office “on the first day in the month of December following his election.”

The progressive Orr was elected 49th Ward alderman in 1979 and served his Rogers Park neighborhood in that capacity for 11 years. Before that, Orr helped run Harold Washington’s first mayoral campaign in 1977. (Washington lost that race to Michael Bilandic, who was then serving as acting mayor following the death of Mayor Richard J. Daley.)

  • Harold Washington and David Orr, 1980 (Courtesy David Orr)

    Harold Washington and David Orr, 1980 (Courtesy David Orr)

  • (Courtesy David Orr)

    (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Mayor’s Wall, 1987 (Courtesy David Orr)

    Mayor’s Wall, 1987 (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Online voter registration, 2013 (Courtesy David Orr)

    Online voter registration, 2013 (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Ald. David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

    Ald. David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

  • David Orr and Sen. Dick Durbin, 2014 Pride Parade (Courtesy David Orr)

    David Orr and Sen. Dick Durbin, 2014 Pride Parade (Courtesy David Orr)

  • 2014 Pride Parade (Courtesy David Orr)

    2014 Pride Parade (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Barack Obama and David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

    Barack Obama and David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Bill Clinton and David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

    Bill Clinton and David Orr (Courtesy David Orr)

  • Induction into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame (Courtesy David Orr)

    Induction into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame (Courtesy David Orr)

  • (Courtesy David Orr)

    (Courtesy David Orr)

  • (Courtesy David Orr)

    (Courtesy David Orr)

When Washington, then entering his second term as mayor of Chicago, unexpectedly died in office in 1987, Orr succeeded his mentor and spent eight days as interim mayor. It was a very tumultuous political time that included the so-called Council Wars.

In 1991, Orr was elected Cook County clerk. The office oversees the third largest election district in the United States.

The clerk not only handles suburban Cook County elections, they also handle vital birth, death, marriage and civil union records and act as the secretary for Cook County Board meetings. The clerk’s office also maintains delinquent tax records, tax maps and information regarding TIF districts and is the keeper of ethics filings of public officials, candidates, some government officials and lobbyists.

The Cook County Board approved a $31 million upgrade to election equipment that Orr hopes will go online in 2019. He is also hoping the legislature approves a number of reforms including lowering the number of petition signatures required to get on the ballot, signing those petitions via electronic tablet, and to push the primary election two weeks later to allow more time for challenges to be adjudicated.

Orr joins Phil Ponce to talk about the past, present and future of elections.


Related stories:

City of Chicago and Cook County See Surge in Voting

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

Cook County Clerk David Orr on Election Law Changes


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