November 16, 2011
In its Recommendations for a Financially Sustainable City of Chicago, the Civic Federation recommended that the City’s election function be transferred to Cook County. Consolidated election administration is the norm in Illinois.
The Federation identified two primary benefits of such a merger:
- it would be more user-friendly and reduce voter confusion about which lines to stand in for early voting, which machines to use and where to find complete election results for county-wide elections; and
- it would reduce duplication of effort and yield cost savings.
Currently, the City of Chicago Board of Elections administers elections in the City and the Cook County Clerk administers elections in suburban Cook County. The City and suburban Cook County each have approximately 1.4 million registered voters (see the Clerk’s and City elections web sites).
Cook County provides a substantial amount of funding for City elections (42% of total City election spending between FY2006 and FY2012). The following table shows the expenditures for each government’s election function over the seven-year period. The fluctuation in annual expenditures reflects the number and type of elections held. In even-numbered years the two governments administer largely the same types and number of elections. In FY2010 and FY2012 the City of Chicago will spend roughly $7 million more than the County on elections.
Both the Clerk and the City election functions have budgeted approximately 130 positions for FY2012. The County has added roughly 16 positions since FY2006 while the City has eliminated roughly 13 positions. However, the personnel figures below may not perfectly represent each government’s election workforce because they may include positions that were budgeted but never filled, or personnel that are cross-trained in other functions.
The Joint Committee on City-Collaboration convened by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed in its June 2011 report that the election functions should be consolidated into the office of the Cook County Clerk. The Joint Committee concluded that this would streamline services for voters and eventually produce annual savings of $5 million to $10 million. Savings would come from eliminating redundant positions, joint purchasing of supplies, reduced need for outside legal counsel and reduction in early voting sites and precincts.
State legislation is necessary to make this change. It would be difficult to implement a full consolidation before the presidential election in November 2012, but the Joint Committee recommended that joint purchasing of materials such as ballots and envelopes should be implemented immediately in order to begin generating savings.
The Joint Committee’s September 2011 Quarterly Report identified the project leaders on this consolidation initiative as:
David Spielfogel, Chief of Policy and Strategic Planning, Office of the Mayor
Kurt Summers, Jr., Chief of Staff, Office of the Cook County Board President
Laura Lechowicz, General Counsel, Office of the Cook County Board President
The next steps in the project and their deadlines are identified in the quarterly report as:
- Determine scope of legal research—September 2011
- Seek pro bono partner to assist with research—September 2011
- Agree on consolidation approach—October 2011
- Submit draft bill requirements to pro bono partner for bill drafting—December 2011
The project end date is scheduled for January 2013.
Cook County Clerk David Orr supports the consolidation of the Chicago and Cook County election functions. The Civic Federation continues to urge both governments to pursue this initiative, which will provide better service for voters and save taxpayer dollars.