Court fight possible over early-voting site on UI campus

Court fight possible over early-voting site on UI campus

URBANA – There's a chance the Champaign County Board and the county's top election official might be headed to court in a dispute over an early-voting site on the University of Illinois campus.

A state law passed this spring calls for a campus registration and pilot voting program at nine public universities in Illinois, including the UI.

"Each public university shall make the space available in a high traffic area for, and cooperate and coordinate with the appropriate election authority in, the implementation of this Section," the law says.

A number of county board Democrats – as well as several members of the Illini Democrats and the UI student senate – said at Tuesday night's committee of the whole meeting that they want the UI's early-voting site at the Illini Union.

But County Clerk Mark Shelden said that for a number of reasons the Union is an inferior site. And he said he hopes to sign a lease within a few days to place the early-voting site in a vacant storefront at 700 S. Gregory St., U, about a half-mile from the Union.

The building, known as Gregory Place, is owned by JSM Development but is on UI property. Renting it would cost the county $800, Shelden said.

Board Chairman C. Pius Weibel said Tuesday that the board's attorney believes state law gives the county board authority to establish polling places.

But Shelden told the board another state law gives the county clerk the power to choose early-voting sites.

"This is our decision," he said. "There's no authority on the county board."

Later, outside the board meeting, he said he would not agree to use the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union, the room offered by UI officials.

"I'm just not going to do it," he said. "They'd have to sue me. But I'd rather that not happen. We're going to have another location."

Weibel and Champaign Democrat Michael Richards both said Wednesday that they believe the Union is a better location, but said they weren't eager to take Shelden to court.

"I'm not interested in pursuing this in court," Weibel said. "I'd say some Democrats, yes, might want to go to court. I don't think it's worthwhile."

"I'm not itching to get in a legal battle with our own clerk," Richards said. "But we have heard the president of the Illinois Senate (John Cullerton) say that he didn't think that Gregory Place was compliant. Perhaps the Illinois Senate would do it."

Urbana Democrat Sam Smucker said he hoped Shelden could be persuaded to use the Union.

"You run such a competent and I believe well-run office that is very efficient," Smucker said. "But when you talk about putting a polling place in the Illini Union, you sound like you've never done this before. And so for me, I would encourage you to rethink this Illini Union plan. There seems to be a lot of good will out there to make this happen. I would be shocked, given your track record as an administrator, that you wouldn't be able to do this in an efficient and competent manner."

The Pine Lounge was used on Election Day in 2008, Shelden acknowledged, but that was an emergency.

"We didn't have a location and we begged and actually had some difficulty getting in, but we begged the Illini Union to let us in and they agreed to do it on an emergency basis," he said.

Shelden said the Union is inappropriate because it is a center of political activity, and politicking is prohibited within 100 feet of a polling place in Illinois. Further, the Union is inaccessible to most voters and presents administrative difficulties for his office.

"It's a hard place for the average voter who is not on campus to get to," he said. "And it's been made pretty clear in the statute that this is to be a voting location that is accessible to everybody in Champaign County."

Urbana Democrat Tom Betz criticized Shelden for "stubborn foolishness."

"If I was the county clerk, I would embrace this and say, 'Yes, I want all the voting I can get. I want it at the Illini Union and I'm going to have a big ceremony opening up the early-voting center.'

"Then I'd make sure I had 25 students lined up and ready to vote, with the community people and everybody else. My philosophy is you take lemons and turn them into lemonade. That's politics. I'd be Mr. Drumbeat for early voting. But you can't do that with this place he wants."

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William_D wrote on September 16, 2010 at 8:09 am

I'm sure if this issue were left solely to the hyper-partisan Shelden, the early voting site would be located in a broom closet somewhere in the basement of the Natural History Building.

Joe American wrote on September 16, 2010 at 8:09 am

Funny you should bring partisanship into this, William, because if it the hyper-partisan county board had their way, they'd hire "community organizers" (ala Barack Obonehead) to go door to door with ballots. And for those who weren't home, they'd vote for them.

This is a non-issue as the law itself is HYPER-PARTISAN and never should have been passed in the first place.

DEB wrote on September 16, 2010 at 9:09 am

Such an issue! You would think the kids at the U would not want the Union to have to become non-political for the month before an election. The Dems and Repubs and Greens and Libertarians all have offices in the building and some would not be available for use because they are within 100 feet of the Pine Lounge. And I can just imagine the uproar when students are forced to remove partisan buttons and t-shirts in order to walk through the lounge, but wearing them would be illegal and subject of fines.

But, it should be up to the students. If they want no politics in the Union for the month before an election, so be it. If they want to exercise their free-speech rights during elections, they can move their groups, meetings, etc. to another location. And they should be forewarned that they will have to remove partisan buttons, t-shirts, signs, etc. before entering the union and that no attempts to talk about the election in the union can be permitted.

No wonder the reputation of UI students is that laws don't apply to them. Whether drunk driving, speeding, rape, and now election laws, they think they don't have to abide by the rules that apply to a civil society.

John O'Connor wrote on September 16, 2010 at 9:09 am

"But County Clerk Mark Shelden said that for a number of reasons the Union is an inferior site."

Chief among those 'problems,' I suspect, is that students tend to vote more for Democrats than Republicans.

They voted there in the 2008 elections. They can vote there again.

Jam wrote on September 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

I am on campus every day. What I see is a large traffic volume which perhaps for the walk up voter would work, however for someone to have to drive to the union puts this driver in a position of having to deal with pedestrians, bicylicsts, autos, busses, trucks, etc (think safety). This is not a proposal looking out for the nonstudent voter. Also, there is not ample parking. I suppose the union would not want to shut down all other business activity so parking would readily be available. Come on people please shut down the partisan rhetoric and lets talk some common sense on this issue, and while I think about it on all the other political issues of our day.

John O'Connor wrote on September 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

Actually, there's plenty of public parking nearby, not even counting the parking in the circle drive. Where do you drive that you don't have to 'deal with pedestrians, bicylicsts, autos, busses, trucks, etc'?

These hardly seem like good reasons to move the polling place to another location, which would also have 'pedestrians, bicylicsts, autos, busses, trucks, etc.'

bluegrass wrote on September 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

Did Speaker Madigan let the Senate President off his lap to bark about where a voting site should or should not be located in Champaign County? That is some serious micro-management there. President Cullerton, might I suggest spending a little more time filling that $12 billion dollar budget hole that you and your party created, and a little less time choosing voting sites in downstate Illinois.

I've written this before but it's worth repeating. U of I students are expected to come to this town from other cities and countries, register for classes, find a place to live, figure out transportation, pay for school, many work part and full time AND do their schoolwork. They can do all these difficult tasks, but the democrats don't think they're capable of figuring out how to register to vote or where to go to vote? And now they're arguing that they can't find a retail store on Gregory. Really?

John O'Connor wrote on September 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The purpose of the law is to increase voter participation -- I'm not sure why you're so hostile to that. And who said the students couldn't find it? That's clearly a strawman. Why not make voting easier and more convenient in a centrally located place?

Joe American wrote on September 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

The law is to increase DEMOCRAT voter participation.

John O'Connor wrote on September 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm

@ joe: 'The law is to increase DEMOCRAT (sic) voter participation.'

Why do you say that?

Joe American wrote on September 16, 2010 at 2:09 pm

It's proven that most university students vote Democratic. You're a smart guy, John - don't lead on like you're not aware of that. Besides, Madigan and his cast of cronies have had complete and unfettered control of the state for years and don't intend on letting go that easily. It was very carefully planned out, similar to the motor-voter law which was nothing more than a ruse to increase specific voter blocks. Why isn't the state mandating that gun shops & shooting ranges be mandated to register voters?

John O'Connor wrote on September 16, 2010 at 5:09 pm

It was meant to increase voter participation, aimed specifically at college students, yes. But, it's not exclusively aimed at just students. But it almost sounds like you're saying you're against it because it might increase participation by people who might not vote the way you'd like them to. You're not seriously taking that position, are you? The goal should be to increase participation by all people, regardless of who they, as individuals, might tend to support.

That's the gist of my, and probably others, complaints. It seems like Sheldon wants to make this process harder because of which party he thinks students would tend to support. That is certainly a very serious problem.

bluegrass wrote on September 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

I'm seriously taking the position that this bill was specifically intended to benefit the left, and they vote differently that I vote. You're absolutely right that the bill wasn't just about students. It's about "professional students," professors, and the vast majority of the people working on campus who belong to a union. Now honestly, is this group of people not traditionally on the left side of the voting block?

The point is that the State of Illinois made a decision to use taxpayer money to make it easier for their own party to gather more votes.

It is NOT the job of the government to increase voter participation. It is the job of the candidates and the job of their respective parties. This bill is about democrats maintaining control on the government, nothing more.

John O'Connor wrote on September 17, 2010 at 11:09 am

It is absolutely the job of government to facilitate voting. The fact that you want to make it more difficult for people who you think won't vote the way you want them to is telling and sad. It's anti democratic and shows the true feelings of so many on the right -- you say you like democracy but when you feel you aren't benefiting from it, you're ready to ditch it.

That is the complaint about Sheldon. Many suspect that he thinks exactly as you do and wants to disenfranchise a group whose possible voting behavior he, as you do, disapproves of. That is naked partisanship and it is the furthest thing from democracy. But thanks for at least being out in the open about it.

bluegrass wrote on September 17, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Honestly, I don't care about the location of the polling place. If they really wanted to get young people voting they should implement a Facebook application or a way to text your votes in.

To say that I don't believe in democracy because I believe this bill is unfair, is as ridiculous as an attempt to defend it. My point, which you don't want to or cannot understand or choose not to respond to, is that this bill is nothing more than a ploy by democrats to gather more votes from their base.

There is no conspiracy against young people voting. There is laziness, there is a dereliction of duty as a citizen, there is a general malaise about voting for some of the comically bad representation we've sent to Springfield and Washington. Part of the reason that people get turned off by politics is exactly what Frerichs and Cullerton are doing right now - they're stacking the deck in their favor with taxpayer money. If you didn't agree with me you wouldn't give two hoots about where the campus polling place will be located. I'll bet it won't be the Union.

John O'Connor wrote on September 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Oh, Jesus. I understand your point, I just don't buy it. It's an attempt to increase voter participation and you said you're against it because of who you think those voters would vote for. If that's not anti democratic, I don't know what is.

How can you say that a bill that tries to get more people to vote is unfair? That makes absolutely no sense, unless you feel you are entitled to electoral victory, no matter what other voters want.

William_D wrote on September 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm

It's "Democratic"

Joe American wrote on September 16, 2010 at 10:09 pm

No, it's Democrat. If I wanted to include the entire scope of the democratic voting process, then I would have said DEMOCRATIC. Just the same as if I had intended to say "increase union voting" or "increase student voting".

John O'Connor wrote on September 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

Ya know, refusing to use the adjective form democratic is just silly and juvenile. It shows that you want to toss around insults rather than engage in a serious discussion. That's your right, but don't expect people to take you seriously when you childishly and deliberately insult them in such a petty way.

Joe American wrote on October 01, 2010 at 10:10 am

The only thing that I find childish, juvenile, petty, sophomoric, the chastising, albeit incorrect, for the use of a noun where a noun is appropriate.

Are you a Democrat or a Democratic?

And if you insist that it's childish and an insult to be called Democrat, then I guess if the shoe fits.......

Keith Hays wrote on September 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Now lets see, the statute required the University to provide space for the registration-early voting facility. After opposing the bill in part because of its cost, the County Clerk chooses to reject the space provided by the University in compliance with the statute and rents space in a private development on Gregory Street. In the words of Deep Throat, "Follow the money!"

bluegrass wrote on September 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

Follow the money? Really? You want us to follow a check for $800?

Yes, I'm sure that JSM Management, a multi-million dollar, hugely successful property management company in C-U will be waiting by the mailbox for that $800 check from the county. What will they do with all that money? (that is sarcasm just in case some didn't get it)

William_D wrote on September 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

No Joe, you are incorrect. If you are describing the party to which Democrats belong, it is the Democratic Party (look it up). Maybe you and your party members are "Republics," right? Little matter, next year I'll just refer to the whole right side of the spectrum as Tea-baggers."

As to whether most students vote Democratic doesn't matter. The point is they are registered voters and entitled to vote. It should be as convenient for them as it is for you or I to go to our local polling place. I know voter nullification is stock-in-trade for the Republican party these days (and big city political machines) but it's illegal.

bluegrass wrote on September 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Was it unusually difficult for U of I students to figure out how to vote before Mike Frerichs saved us all from this illegal voter nullification? Was it any more difficult for someone going to college to vote than someone who works a night shift, or has a 2.5 kids, or is a single mom, or lives in an assisted living community, or fights fires, or smokes a pipe?

This this bill would have never been proposed and passed by democrats if the majority of students, faculty and staff at the U of I were republicans. Why can't all you democratics admit that? I'm begging you, please admit it so I can stop checking this site today.

John O'Connor wrote on September 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

"...all you democratics..." Really?

Who said it was "unusually difficult for U of I students to figure out how to vote"? This bill is about making early voting easier. What's wrong with that? You're also against motor-voter, right? Why would you oppose making it easier for people to register to vote?

You oppose these because you do think these measures encourage people to vote who you don't agree with. In other words, you'd like to make it harder for them to vote because you don't approve of the way you think they'd vote. That's pretty naked partisanship.

Frankly, I think voting should be as easy as possible. Maybe a national holiday or extending the vote over a matter of days or weeks, which, incidentally, is what this measure does.

How do you justify your position that you want to make it more difficult for people you disagree with to vote? That seems pretty anti democratic to me.

bluegrass wrote on September 17, 2010 at 4:09 pm

"Democratics" was just meant to be a joke - a take off from the discussion of democrats or democratic or whatever. It was just in good fun and not meant to be negative.

I don't know anything about motor-voter.

My position is not that I want to make it more difficult for people to vote. You wrote that. What I said is that it was not unusually difficult for students at the U of I to vote in the first place, and that this bill unfairly uses taxpayer money to cater to a certain group of people who traditionally vote with democrats.

I bet you've voted in most elections. I was working 2 jobs in college and managed to vote in every election since I turned 18. I hope that doesn't sound like bragging, because what I did wasn't special - it's what you're supposed to do. It's your obligation as a citizen to keep yourself informed and vote. It takes 20 minutes every couple of years.

John O'Connor wrote on September 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

Okay, you want to keep it the way it is, not make it easier and more convenient, and thereby increase voter participation. And you say you don't want to increase voting by people associated with the university because of the way you think all of them will vote. That is blatant, naked partisanship on your part and you can't spin that away.

And anyway, it's not just for students -- anyone can take advantage of this opportunity to vote early.

Here's a question: do you think voting should be a chore and something you can use to prove your citizenship chops or should it be as easy and convenient as possible to ensure that the voices of as many people as possible are heard?

bluegrass wrote on September 18, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Yes, I want to keep it the way it is, and not make it easier and more convenient for a certain group of people to vote. Number one, that is really not fair to all, and keeping it the way it is does not make voting a chore. Do you think voting is a chore? I am unapologetically partisan, just like the democrats who authored and voted for the bill are partisan because they thought it would benefit their party.

You're partisan too, but you and Mike Frerichs and the rest are hiding behind the idea that you're somehow taking the high road and this whole bill is just an attempt to get more young people voting. It's rubbish.

John O'Connor wrote on September 18, 2010 at 3:09 pm

The purpose of early voting is to make it easier for people to vote. Most people support that. You can oppose that and you can do so for nakedly partisan reasons, but you're in the minority there.

Anyone can use this early voting location and many people who are not students will take advantage of the convenience this offers them.

And, I would never oppose increasing voter participation just because I thought it would hurt my preferred candidates. It's of course your right to do so, but I still maintain that your position is fundamentally anti democratic.

bluegrass wrote on September 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

This bill isn't about early voting.

You say you would never oppose increasing voter participation. What if republicans took control of the state government, and decided to use State of Illinois tax revenue to install special early voting site kiosks at every NRA banquet and every Chamber of Commerce Meeting held 6 weeks prior to each election? That would increase voter participation, would you oppose it?

John O'Connor wrote on September 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

The bill is obviously about early voting and increasing voter participation. Again, anyone can take advantage of it. You seem to think everyone who sets foot on campus votes in a way you disapprove of. First, this is just wrong. Second, that is irrelevant anyway. The state is under no obligation to limit voting to people who you think will vote the way you want them to.

There is a need for early voting, especially on campuses. That's why the law was passed. There is also a need for early voting for the military, which is also facilitated by various bills and I have absolutely no objection to that, even though the military as awhole tends to support candidates I don't support. Your example of "NRA banquet and every Chamber of Commerce Meeting[s]" is not a relevant comparison and I think you're well aware of that.

This bill did not single out certain voluntary organizations, rather all citizens. I think you are quite aware that you are not making a reasonable comparison. But, to answer your question, if a hypothetical Republican controlled legislature passed a bill making early voting available only to these restricted access groups, I would not support it and it would be clearly against election laws.

The difference is that there is no closed membership organization being catered to here. Any voter can take advantage of this early voting. The fact remains that you oppose this beause you think by increasing voter participation in this way, your partisan interests will be harmed. The same conclusion is inescapable: that is a fundamentally anti democratic position, no matter how you spin or try to rationalize it.

bluegrass wrote on September 21, 2010 at 10:09 am

Your quote, "This bill did not single out certain voluntary organizations." This bill puts brand new early voting sites on three college campuses in the State. Three, in the whole, entire State of Illinois. Only three. All on college campuses. Just Three. College campuses only.

But it doesn't single anyone out at all, right?

We're not going to agree.

John O'Connor wrote on September 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Clearly. Primarily, it seems, because you seem to want to refuse to even acknowledge that anyone can use these facilities. But that doesn't fit your narrative so you just ignore it.

Joe American wrote on October 01, 2010 at 9:10 am

Why don't we just be honest about it and put the early voter facility in the welfare office?

Joe American wrote on October 01, 2010 at 9:10 am

Excellent post. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it's got to be said.

Joe American wrote on October 01, 2010 at 9:10 am

Are you a Democrat or a Democratic?

It just so happens that an individual within the Republican party is called a "Republican", but an individual within the Democratic party is a "Democrat". Obviously you slept during that class.

You're WRONG. Nuff said.

uiuc3 wrote on September 18, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Yea for community organizers in Champaign! Maybe they can help the "Mayor??" locate his original birth certificate so we can make sure he is legit.

sahuoy wrote on September 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

If this test site is a democratic ploy to secure votes by tapping into a previously overlooked location, so be it as everyone should have reasonable access and opportunity to vote. That said, the Illini Union hardly seems appropriate given what little space for parking and the volume of traffic. If the Gregory site better meets these needs, good, that is the most important objective. If this is really a political battle of republican vs democrat to otherwise unfairly influence votes then both Sheldon and Weibel should resign as neither has the service of all the people as their goal but rather just one party attempting to outplay the other. Just sayin...

and people wander what they've done wrong to deserve their dire circumstances... and the truth shall set you free...