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McLean County Clerk Candidates Scrap Over Election Duties

A Democratic candidate for McLean County clerk is arguing for a countywide election commission.

Nikita Richards hopes to run against incumbent Republican Kathy Michael in November 2018.

Richards noted a League of Women Voters study several years ago favored a nonpartisan commission. She said that in today's toxic political environment, nonpartisan administration of elections would be better than the current system.

"Not only will such a move likely save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, but it will bring about a solution to the confusion and inefficiency of having two bureaucracies administer local elections," said Richards.

Clerk Kathy Michael said voters should "have a say in who runs elections," and a commission removes that element. Michael said she prefers consolidation of election functions under the clerk's office.

Michael questioned efficiency assumptions in handing all election duties to a commission.

"To the contrary, adding employees whose mandate is solely to conduct election-related activities segregates those employees from cross-training and creates barriers to realizing efficiencies through economies of scale; saving in costs gained by increased level of production," said Michael.

County administrators recently called for consolidation of the election commission and county clerk election functions, but did not express an opinion whether it should be a countywide commission or a move of Bloomington Election Commission functions to the clerk's office.
No matter the method of consolidation, the Bloomington City Council would first have to vote to create a referendum to abolish the Bloomington Election Commission.

Richards is also questioning the current office holder.

"I am truly appalled that the current clerk Kathy Michael insists on counting her ballots considering her record of staunch partisanship. That poses a conflict of interest and appears quite unethical," Richards said in a statement Monday.

Most Illinois counties have county clerks administer elections.

Michael said in a response that Richards' assertion is "appalling" and "misleads the public and voters."

Michael said the votes themselves are processed by a contracted vendor using an approved legal process.

There are fewer than 10 election commissions in the state. Most cover metropolitan areas and date back to the 1920s and 30s. The original reason for commissions was to reduce machine-style politics.

But Michael rejected the desire to keep party politics out of elections.

It "is an outdated solution in search of a problem. How does empowering commissioners appointed by other politicians achieve this goal?" said Michael.

Michael said having an elected official administer elections enhances accountability to the voters.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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