November 9, 2016
On November 8, 2016, the Cook County electorate voted on the binding referendum to merge the Office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and the Office of the Cook County Clerk. The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted in June 2016 to present the referendum question to Cook County residents on the general election ballot. The merging of the offices will take place by December 7, 2020.
Of the 1.5 million registered voters in suburban Cook County, just over one million cast ballots on the measure, with 64% voting in favor of the merger and 36% voting against it. In the City of Chicago, about one million of the nearly 1.6 million registered voters cast ballots on the measure. 62% of Chicago voters supported the measure and 38% voted against it. Preliminary election results for suburban Cook County are available at the County Clerk website and preliminary election results for the City of Chicago are available at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website.
The Civic Federation has publicly supported the merging of the two offices for many years, including when the proposal first appeared in a 2012 resolution before the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The resolution was voted down at the time because Commissioners were concerned about the referendum’s language and the timeframe that would have required the merger to take place by the end of 2013.
The merger was again introduced by Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey in October 2015. Despite opposition from several commissioners, the resolution was approved by the Board of Commissioners on June 29, 2016. Opponents of the measure argued that the issue was being rushed and the referendum question did not provide voters with enough information to make an informed decision. There was also some opposition from several Commissioners on the basis that the merging of the offices appeared to be racially motived, as the current Recorder of Deeds office is held by an African-American.
The Federation’s support for the measure centers exclusively on the operational efficiencies and cost savings that merging the offices would achieve. Several large counties in California and smaller counties in Illinois already operate without redundant Recorder of Deeds offices.
The Civic Federation calculated a conservative estimate for potential cost savings of 5% of the combined offices’ expenditures in the first year, with additional savings in future years. In FY2016, 5% equaled $674,000 the two offices’ expenditures. The League of Women Voters of Cook County estimates that savings would be at least $1 million annually. The current Cook County Clerk David Orr has reported that savings could be as high as $2 million per year.
The Civic Federation looks forward to learning more about the County’s plans to smoothly merge the two offices within the next four years.