URBANA – Despite the objections of local Democrats and University of Illinois student leaders, Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden has signed a lease to put a campus early voting center in the Gregory Place development a few blocks east of the UI Quad.
The Democrats and student leaders wanted the early voting center to be at the Illini Union.
Shelden, however, said the Union was inconvenient and the scene of too much political activity to be a polling place for early voting that will be held next month. On Tuesday, he signed an $800 short-term lease with JSM Development for the vacant storefront at 701 S. Gregory St., U.
County board Democrats, meeting in caucus Tuesday night, said they would offer a non-binding resolution at Thursday's board meeting that it was the sense of the board that the campus early voting center – mandated by a state law passed this spring – should be at the Union.
The Democrats said, however, that they would not file suit to challenge Shelden's authority to select the early voting site.
"This is a very unclear legal question," said Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who is an attorney. "I don't want to spend the next three weeks litigating instead of campaigning."
Champaign Democrat Michael Richards said Shelden's action, which Democrats contend is designed to dampen student turnout in the fall election, should reignite the effort to have the county clerk's election responsibilities given to an election commission.
"We should look at this after the election," he said.
Matt Gladney, another Champaign Democrat, said he was displeased with the situation "but we may just have to take it on the chin with this one."
"The Union would be much, much better but Gregory Place isn't in Timbuktu either. There are shops there. The Canopy Club is in that general area, the Krannert Center too. I know students can get over there because I've see students there. So all I'm saying is that it's not my preferred place but let's make the best of it."
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton last week issued a statement saying that "the election authority (in this case the Champaign County clerk) does not have unfettered discretion over the location of the early voting site."
John Patterson, a spokesman for Cullerton, Tuesday said "we'll let the statement speak for itself," and declined to say whether Cullerton would sue to force Shelden to put the early voting facility at the Union.
Meanwhile, Shelden and state Sen. Mike Frerichs, the original sponsor of the campus early voting legislation, agreed to meet with UI student government leaders at the Union Wednesday night.
"They asked me to come so I said I would," Shelden said. "I guess they want to hear my side of the story."