A request to seek a legal opinion about how polling sites can be moved turned into a largely partisan battle during a McLean County government committee meeting.
The County Board’s Finance Committee voted 4-3 nearly along party lines Tuesday to reject Democrat Laurie Wollrab’s request to direct a series of legal questions to McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp. Finance Committee member Jacob Beard was the only Republican to vote for the proposal.
Wollrab said she wanted the state’s attorney to weigh in on such matters as how much public notice is required before moving a polling site and to whether population density must be considered.
“It’s not a political statement, it’s just a request for information,” Wollrab told the committee.
Republican Kathy Michael manages all elections in McLean County outside of the City of Bloomington.
Republicans on the committee, including Catherine Metsker, said a legal opinion wasn’t necessary.
“Can not the county clerk answer these questions and give you the statutes?” Metsker asked Wollrab.
“Is the county clerk an attorney?” Wollrab replied.
“I think the county clerk can probably tell you what statutes there are,” Metsker replied.
Wollrab said the county should have the legal opinions handy when the County Board is called upon to approve a polling site relocation on short notice.
“The track record of these requests has been that they are made just ahead of the deadline for notifying voters of the proposed changes,” Wollrab said.
Metsker called Wollrab’s claim “disingenuous.”
“I don’t think these things always come to us at the last minute,” Metsker said.
Wollrab first raised these questions in November when a proposal advanced from the township through Michael's office to close a polling site at the Bloomington Township Building and consolidate it with the Bloomington Township fire station starting with the March 2020 primary, a move the township’s board approved in October.
The polling site relocation proposal failed in finance committee.
Michael told the committee the request for legal input is a “waste of the state’s attorney’s time," saying her office has copies of Illinois statutes of election law and refers to them frequently.
“It’s a red herring and indeed your comment was disingenuous,” Michael told Wollrab.
“This is why I didn’t ask you for an opinion, because every time I ask you a question, you throw out junk to me, which you just did,” Wollrab replied.
Republican Chuck Erickson voted against the legal review, saying the request was premature.
“It’s not an issue yet. It could be an issue and when it becomes an issue you should raise it at that time,” Erickson told Wollrab.
“Will there be time to raise it then?” Wollrab asked Erickson.
“I think there will be,” he replied.
Democrat Carlo Robustelli asked why the committee even needs to vote on the request. He noted no vote was required when Erickson asked the state’s attorney to review whether the county administration has legal authority to direct County Auditor Michelle Anderson to change the office’s bookkeeping methods.
“In (my) seven years on this County Board, it’s never been put on an item on an agenda for voting on. It’s never happened,” Robustelli said. “That’s not the requirement in the rules. The state’s attorney’s office has said it’s not a big deal. It’s members of this committee that have concerns about this and I don’t know why. No one is making allegations of wrongdoing.”
First Assistant State’s Attorney Jessica Woods said the auditor issue was unique because its urgency made it impractical to take the request through the regular legislative process.
“It was an immediate necessity because they were questions about the authority that needed to be resolved immediately,” Woods said.
Wollrab said after the meeting she had no political motives in seeking the state's attorney's input.
"If there is political maneuvering, it's on both sides at this point," she said. "Why on earth would you not want to know what the rules of the road are when you are making such important decisions?"
Wollrab said she plans to ask County Board chairman John McIntyre to bring the matter up for a vote of the full County Board at its Jan. 21 meeting.
(Editor's Note: This story has been changed to add detail on how a proposal to change a Bloomington Township polling place advanced and to add Jacob Beard as the lone Republican to support the inquiry.)
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in Central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.