UI research scientist files to challenge county clerk
Hays sees opportunity to stir up voter interest
URBANA — Scott Hays, who said he has taught a college-level course on American government and helped write a book on voter reforms, said he couldn't let Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten run unopposed.
So Hays filed candidacy papers on Wednesday — less than 10 weeks before Election Day — to be Hulten's Democratic opponent. Hays replaces Wayne Williams, who withdrew from the race last week.
"It's an interesting opportunity," said Hays, 51, a research scientist at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. "I have a longstanding interest in voters and voter behavior, since my first days as a undergraduate political science major at the University of North Florida. And it's very important to me, as an American government professor, which I have been in the past, to encourage students to get registered.
"I've written a book on voters and voter registration ("Engaging the Public: How Government and the Media Can Reinvigorate American Democracy," 1998), and I'm working on a curriculum to help young people vote," said Hays, who lives in rural Mahomet with his wife Carol, who is managing the campaign of 15th Congressional District Democrat Eric Thorsland. The couple have two daughters.
"We looked at various ways and methods of getting people to vote, which has always been a real commitment of mine," Hays said of the book. "We pulled together a bunch of studies of voter reforms and the results of that, and different things, including media coverage, that could be done to stimulate the interest of the publics in elections."
Hays said he considered the race for county clerk earlier this year, but his schedule was full.
"My wife was really involved with the Thorsland campaign. I was helping Eric, too, had a daughter going off to college, another daughter starting her senior year of high school," he said. "I'm also president of the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy, which is a group in Mahomet that promotes the Sangamon River and takes a lot of time commitment, and I also have a good job at the university that I kinda like.
"So once Wayne stepped up, I thought, 'Well that's good,' but then I found out that Wayne really couldn't run, and as it lingered through the summer and we got our daughter off to college, another deadline approached, and I heard the call that it doesn't look like there would be a candidate. I just couldn't have that. It's very important to me that we have candidates in every election. It's absolutely critical. And if I truly believe that — which I truly do — I've got to step up."
Hays said he wasn't worried being disadvantaged in such a compacted campaign schedule.
"I grew up in Florida and became of age there, and they just had their primaries (Tuesday)," he said. "That election season is September to Election Day. We didn't really move primaries into the spring until relatively recently. It's actually unusual that you would have eight months after a primary. The voters I talk to say they're sick of elections already. I think a voter can make up their mind in a two-month campaign. I think they're plenty intelligent, and I think many voters decide in the last two weeks. I don't see it as a disadvantage at all."
Hays said he was concerned about Hulten's handling of the March primary election, in which some results were later proven to be inaccurate.
"The main thing that got me interested in this race was the March primary and the questions associated with what happened there. I still don't think they have been satisfactorily resolved," he said. "To me, to have the integrity of the office and the election process undermined in any way, if there are any questions — and my current understanding is that questions remain about what happened and what went wrong — if there are any questions raised, that's an issue for me."
Hays said he is running to make Hulten accountable for the mistakes made in the primary election process.
"If something goes wrong on your watch and you're the head of the ship ... I mean, if this happened on my watch, if I were county clerk, I would expect to be held accountable for it in the next election, and I would fully expect to lose my seat because of it," he said.
Hays called his race "an uphill struggle."
"But if it wasn't possible, I wouldn't have stepped up."
Hulten, meanwhile, said he wasn't concerned about having a new opponent.
"We're focused on 69 days before the election, our preparations to get ready for the administration of the election and running as flawless an election as we can possibly run," he said. "Honestly, I haven't given much thought to the campaign at all to this point."