Two seek Champaign County clerk seat

Two seek Champaign County clerk seat

URBANA — Ask the two men running for Champaign County clerk — the county office that oversees elections and vital records — and they both speak about their zeal for a fair and efficient voting process.

Beyond that, Republican incumbent Gordy Hulten and his Democratic challenger Charlie Smyth may be as different as the two cities they call home.

Hulten, of Champaign, has been on the job since January 2011 and is seeking election to his office for the first time. He was appointed to fill the unexpired term of former County Clerk Mark Shelden.

Smyth, of Urbana, is a bicycle-riding information technology professional who retired from his University of Illinois job to run for the clerk's office.

Hulten is a former marketing professional and political analyst who has managed other candidates' campaigns.

On Thursday, he announced, he'll be equipping election judges with laptops to process ballot applications for the November election to improve efficiency, and he says he's got other ideas he'd like to implement in the next term.

Smyth wants to put his own IT background to work for the county.

He also wants Champaign County's voter turnout to be the highest in the state to show just how invested in the community folks are, and he's got some ideas for making that happen starting with putting himself in school classrooms talking to kids about why their votes count.

Hey younger folks, he says, why do older people get courted? Because they vote.

"I tell young folks, and they understand this, they're part of a demographic group," Smyth adds. "If you want to get paid attention to, you have to vote. The size of the vote gets you the attention of the politicians."

Smyth says he's been interested in helping other people since his childhood and he has memories of admiring missionaries.

Now, he says, he wants to apply his experience bringing people together and his information technology skills to the county to make voting and registration as easy and secure as possible.

Hulten says the most important attributes voters should be looking for when they choose between him and Smyth are a high level of integrity, a commitment to innovation and a spirit of independence.

And he contends his record since taking the clerk's office is ample evidence of all three.

He's taken a fairly high-performing office and made it even more efficient, he says.

For example: In-house printing of ballots has saved "tens of thousands of dollars" a year.

The new laptops on the way for the November election were purchased with a grant at no cost to the county, he said.

For future elections, he says, he'd like to investigate the possibility of multiple counting stations on election night, so judges at all remote polling places wouldn't have to drive results to Urbana.

When it comes to increasing voter turnout, Hulten says, "what we've done is pretty extensive already."

That includes a lot of education about where and how to do early and absentee voting and the implementing multiple new early-voting locations, he said.

Smyth says he wants to bring a higher level of professionalism, neutrality and trust to the clerk's office.

He also talks about the importance of user-friendly service and how much good morale and job satisfaction among the employees make a difference.

He, too, describes himself as an independent thinker, as well as one who can work with others to get things done.

"I've got real technical and management skills and a demonstrated track record from nearly 12 years in office," he said.

Smyth has criticized the recent voter's guide that ran as a paid insert in The News-Gazette, saying it featured Hulten's name so prominently, "it's almost a campaign poster."

Hulten said the only person he's heard complain about the election guide has been Smyth.

Smyth also is critical of the way Hulten handled some aspects of the Rick Winkel/Stephanie Holderfield primary race for circuit clerk, saying Hulten should have recused himself from helping decide a challenge to Holderfield's candidacy since Hulten had been Winkel's former Senate race campaign manager.

Hulten says he's responsible by law to serve as chairman of the electoral board that hears petition challenges, and he had voted to keep Holderfield on the ballot, "so clearly there must not have been a conflict of interest."

Smyth also says Hulten could have posted notices at polling places informing voters that Winkel had later dropped out of the race after ballots had already been printed with his name, so voters wouldn't have wound up voting for him.

Despite the fact that he'd withdrawn from the race, Winkel won the primary, and Republicans later chose Katie Blakeman as their candidate for circuit clerk.

Hulten says he followed the law to the letter after Winkel withdrew from the race.

The idea of posting notices at polling places, "that to me is electioneering," he said.

"I wouldn't have handled it any differently. I'm very comfortable that what we did was the legal thing to do and the right thing to do and I don't think the voters want an election authority who is going to make decisions about which votes to count, which election laws to follow. We were very to careful to make sure what the law was," Hulten said.

Both Hulten and Smyth also say they'd like to see state-level changes to make voting easier for all Illinois residents.

Smyth, for example, wants to see motor voter become a truly automated system: Voters ought to be able to automatically change their voter registration at the same time they change their driver's license information at the secretary of state's office, rather than having to fill out a separate form, he says.

"The system is so archaic, so inefficient," he adds.

Hulten said he'd like to work on better collaboration between clerks, the State Board of Elections and secretary of state's office on faster, more accurate verification of driver's license numbers for voter registration.

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rsp wrote on October 12, 2012 at 10:10 am

"I wouldn't have handled it any differently. I'm very comfortable that what we did was the legal thing to do and the right thing to do and I don't think the voters want an election authority who is going to make decisions about which votes to count, which election laws to follow. We were very to careful to make sure what the law was," Hulten said.

Putting up a notice that Winkel had withdrawn from the race was recommended by the state election board. It would only serve to remind people that he wasn't running, or to notify those who didn't know. It would in no way have anything to do with which votes Hulten counted. They would have had to vote for Winkel for there to be votes to count. By not putting up a notice, Hulten made sure he had votes to count. It was his decision. 

johnny wrote on October 15, 2012 at 1:10 am

Skeptical of Smyth "as an independent thinker," but I at least trust him to run fair elections.