County clerk candidates tangle at debate

CHAMPAIGN — The current Champaign County clerk claimed he has "the best county clerk's office in the state of Illinois," while his opponent said "it's time to end the 70-year stranglehold that the local Republican Party has had on" the office.

The two, Republican Gordy Hulten and Democrat Charlie Smyth, tangled at a candidate forum Wednesday night at the Champaign City Building.

Hulten was appointed the county clerk two years ago when the elected clerk, Mark Shelden, resigned to take a job with U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana. Smyth is a veteran member of the Urbana City Council.

Hulten boasted that he has increased voter registration in the county and expanded early-voting opportunities at this fall's general election.

"I personally have registered hundreds if not thousands of voters over the last two years. I've spent Sunday mornings in African-American churches, I've spent Saturday nights in the (University of Illinois') undergraduate library doing exactly that," Hulten said. "I believe that in Champaign County we now run the best elections in the state of Illinois. We have the best county clerk's office in the state of Illinois and I'll put our office up against anybody in the state."

But Smyth had a different view of Hulten's tenure as county clerk.

He said he would offer all voters a more complete voters' guide before elections, allow same-day voting during the so-called "grace period," and would extend the hours for early voting.

"I will provide a voters' guide that will be just that, with all the information needed to vote absentee, clearly describing ID requirements for early voting and new voter proof of address, and how to use grace period registration and same-day voting."

He said he surveyed more than 40 counties and found that only Champaign County prohibited same-day voting by grace-period registrants.

Hulten, however, disputed that contention, saying that a number of counties do not allow same-day voting. And he said state law "explicitly provides" county clerks to mail absentee ballots to late registrants so that their addresses can be verified.

Smyth said early-voting hours should be extended to make it more convenient for voters.

"To be truly innovative and to increase participation through early voting, we need to trade some 8 to 5 p.m. schedule times for expanded weekend and evening hours at some locations," he said.

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