Q&A: New Bloomington Election Commission director preps for four elections in less than a year
The new person in charge of Bloomington's elections takes over during a time of heightened scrutiny of how we elect our leaders and even how we determine who can represent us.
Suzanne Fahnestock previously ran elections in Kane and DuPage counties in the Chicago suburbs. She started as Bloomington Election Commission director in November. Fahnestock replaces Tim Mitchell, who left the commission in May.
The commission has also been in the midst of a move. Its offices are sprawled out in different areas of the Government Centers first floor inside the city of Bloomington’s so-called The Hub.
Fahnestock said the delay in next year's primary for state races until late June buys the commission some time.
FAHNESTOCK: You would think that should help, but when everything is thrown off, you just need to kind of double check and make sure that you have everything in place and ready to go. We don't just prepare for one election, we are always thinking of the next election in the commission. This is a little unique. They have to be preparing for four elections in the (upcoming) fiscal year.
WGLT: Four elections in terms of the primary and general elections in 2022. And then municipal elections the following year?
FAHNESTOCK: Yeah, if we have a primary in February, and then the consolidated election in April. So, this is why we we're making sure that we have everything in place and ready to go. Because we won't have much time between each election, so you just want to make sure that you have plenty of supplies and resources and all that that we have to make sure that is there for every election.
WGLT: What about security concerns? McLean County has put in place a new system for its elections. To what extent should we be concerned about that heading into the elections in 2022?
FAHNESTOCK: I'm still in the process of assessing how much the commission has done in regard to election security, securing their equipment, the whole voting system, their data, how we store data, how we exchange data between us and the state, between us and other election authorities. We're still assessing how much they have done, and if there's anything that we need to do before the next election. But if there is anything that needs to be done, it will be done and we will be ready for the election and make sure that it's a secure election.
WGLT: Ultimately voters should feel confident that their vote will be secure?
FAHNESTOCK: Absolutely, absolutely. With no doubt.
WGLT: Do your paper ballots make that easier? There seems to be concern that electronic ballots have more risk for security breaches.
FAHNESTOCK: I know that a lot of people are more comfortable with voting on a paper ballot. This question trying to find out why would they not be comfortable, because of all the attention that is given maybe to the possibility of someone doing something that is not appropriate to election equipment or the vote or any of that? I'm going to say that we will look into that. If there's anything that can be of concern, we will address it before the election — which I doubt very much that there is — and be ready.
WGLT: The Bloomington Election Commission handles elections for the city, of course, and the McLean County Clerk's office handles those election matters for the county. They're in the same building. They're right across the hall. I imagine you’ve probably heard the question. What about the possibility of putting both of those under one roof literally and have operations run by one election authority? What are your thoughts on that?
FAHNESTOCK: I know that the question was on the ballot, I think back in 2018. (Voters then rejected dissolving the commission in a 56%-44% vote). My understanding that some were arguing that they can save more money if it's the two election jurisdictions combined. I say to that, that that might be true, that it might not be true. The best way to approach this topic probably, maybe it is true, you know, but I think if the statement should be made, it should be made based on facts, or supported by facts and the facts can be done by maybe doing a study and find out. And it wouldn't address the concerns that were that existed when this Commission was established. (According to the BEC website, the commission was established in 1914 in response to election fraud and concerns about partisanship.)
The BEC also has to set up new voting precincts ahead of next year's elections as part of the city's redistricting process. She said eight of the city's 52 precincts are now too big based on the latest census growth. The state has set precincts at not more than 1,200 registered voters.
The city’s voting precincts will be set after the city redraws its nine wards. Bloomington city officials have not said how the city plans to handle its redistricting.
The commission is seeking to fill a vacancy on its three-member board starting Jan. 1, 2022.
The BEC said interested applicants should sent a letter to the City of Bloomington Board of Election Commissioners, c/o Judge Rebecca Foley, 104 W. Front St., Bloomington, Ill. 61701. Letters must be postmarked by Dec. 17.
Qualified applicants must be a registered voter in Bloomington, must be a state of Illinois resident for the last two years and must have what the commission calls “well known political convictions (verified by voting history).
The BEC said the position may be filled by someone of any political affiliation because Democrats and Republicans are already represented on the commission.