Quinn signs legislation on early voting; controversy continues
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a controversial bill aimed at increasing voting on Illinois' public university campuses this fall, but that won't end the controversy.
Champaign County Board members will have to decide in August, County Clerk Mark Shelden said Monday, how much they are willing to spend on the program he says the county cannot afford.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said Shelden is being selective when it comes to complaining about spending. Frerichs sponsored an earlier version of the college voting bill which did not clear the Legislature, but he voted for the bill that Quinn OK'd.
Senate Bill 3012 was signed Sunday by Quinn, along with two other election-related bills.
"There is no better way to celebrate our nation's independence than by signing legislation to expand democracy in Illinois," Quinn said.
But Shelden said the college voting bill, which will require him to establish an early voting site on the University of Illinois campus for 23 days in October, is too costly and is unfair to other voters in the county.
The only other early voting center in the county is at the county clerk's office in the Brookens Administrative Center on the east side of Urbana.
"We'll see what the county board wants to do, how much money they want to spend, whether they want to consolidate polling places and whether they want to buy new voting equipment. Or maybe they'll have a new solution," he said.
Shelden plans to bring the issue back to the county board in August. Minimally, he said, the early voting center on campus would cost the county $20,000 – for a new printer and computer, plus staff time for at least two and perhaps three employees. Not only would the early voting center be open on all weekdays; it would have to be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon, he said.
Shelden said he looked into expanded early voting years ago but decided against it because of the cost.
"We've had early voting in Illinois for five years," he said. "Making it available in other areas is always something that's been on my mind. But I knew there were huge issues involved and a lot of costs. I've already considered this and didn't move ahead with it. The (county) board certainly at any point could have said, 'Hey Mark, we want you to do this and we're willing to pay for it.' That was an option for the county board for the last five years and they didn't opt to do it for obvious reasons. We're broke and we don't have the money."
He also said he believes residents of other areas of the county resent an early voting center going to campus.
"Our elected state Legislature decided that votes on campus were more important, and that doing something to increase voting on campus was more important than increasing voting in Fisher or St. Joe or Pesotum," he said. "The decision needed to be made locally. Instead it was made by a legislative body and a governor who have no clue what's going on here in Champaign County."
But Frerichs said voters from all over Champaign County will be able to use the campus early voting site.
"I think Shelden has not been accurate in his representation of this bill," the state senator said. "He refers to it as a student voting bill. Other people in Champaign County will be able to vote there. The university is the largest employer in the county by far.
"I think this will make it easier for people from Rantoul, Tolono, Sadorus, Ivesdale – people who work on campus – to vote early. I think it's a much more convenient voting place than Brookens is on the east side of Urbana."
As to where the campus voting center should be, Frerichs said, "I would just hope that our county clerk would work to put out the location and the most accessible location as is possible. In the past I think we've seen on campus barriers put up to student voting on Election Day. I would hope he wouldn't engage in that during the early voting."
Meanwhile, he said that Shelden spent more than $10,000 on a Chicago law firm last year in an unsuccessful attempt to restrain the State Board of Elections from enforcing a new law on undervotes.
"He has spoken in the past about the need to consolidate voting places. These are choices the county clerk makes, like his choice to spend more than $10,000 on a Chicago law firm to fight a state law that his own attorney (State's Attorney Julia Rietz) said was a waste of time" Frerichs said. "In my mind he wasted $10,000 that could have been spent helping people to vote.