Champaign County Board reverses itself, nixes polling-place merger

Champaign County Board reverses itself, nixes polling-place merger

URBANA — On a strictly party-line vote, the Champaign County Board reversed its vote of a month ago and rejected County Clerk Gordy Hulten's plan to merge nine campus-area polling places into one.

The 10-8 vote Tuesday night means that for the April 4 municipal and school board election, voters in six Champaign and three Urbana precincts will vote at their regular polling places instead of at a central location at the Illini Union. The change is expected to cost the county about $10,000 in additional election-related expenses.

Democrats voted against Hulten's plan even though they had supported it a month ago. Some grumbled that they felt coerced because of the threat of a lawsuit.

A number of University of Illinois students said at a meeting last month that the polling-place consolidation plan could be viewed as voter suppression. The board also received a legal opinion from the state's attorney's office that said that Hulten's plan "is vulnerable to legal challenge."

Urbana Democrat Chris Alix noted that campus-area polling places had been merged for other low-turnout municipal elections in 2013 and 2015.

"I don't think we got a single no vote in any of the other times this was brought up before the board," said Alix. "I've talked to voters and candidates about this, and I have not yet heard anyone articulate how any candidate would be disadvantaged by this plan, any constituency that would be disadvantaged by this plan.

"We're talking about a commonsense approach to save us some money in a very low-turnout election in a way that as far as I can tell was intended by no one to suppress votes and has never had the effect of suppressing votes."

Alix said he felt he had to vote against the plan "against my better judgment because of the law."

He urged the Legislature to fix the state's confusing and sometimes contradictory election laws.

"If there's one thing I've learned from talking to the county clerk is how many statutes there are that probably every county that has an election is in violation of," he said.

Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie denied that merging the polling places into one site amounted to voter suppression.

"I put these out on the GIS map, and the distance of these different precincts to the Illini Union is shorter than for me to go to my polling place near the Clark Park area, which is eight blocks away," Petrie said. "If we're going to take the argument to its logical conclusion, then I'm experiencing voter suppression."

Champaign Republican Jim McGuire noted that some voters in rural areas have to drive 10 miles to get to a polling place, "and we're going to open up all of these polling places across campus so they can walk blocks, and there will be 10 people at most (voting) at this cost?"

Also Tuesday, the board approved a resolution authorizing the county treasurer and auditor to borrow up to $1.5 million from the county public safety sales tax fund for the county's general corporate fund to cover a likely cash shortfall this spring.

County revenue so far this year is coming in about $1.2 million below projections, said County Administrator Rick Snider.

And County Treasurer Dan Welch said the county's fund balance could drop to as low as $1 million in March or April.

"That to me is too low," said Welch. "When I see a million-dollar balance at the end of any particular month, that's where I'm concerned. Because one month of payroll is $1.7 million."

Meanwhile, the appointment of Jim Goss to fill the unexpired term of Gary Maxwell on the board was approved unanimously by the board. Goss, whose name was forwarded by Republican Party precinct committeemen, will represent County Board District 1, which includes most of the northwest quadrant of the county.

All but three of the 21 active county board members attended the meeting. Absent were Democrats Lorraine Cowart and Robert King and Republican John Jay.

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capt80 wrote on February 15, 2017 at 9:02 am

"We're talking about a commonsense approach to save us some money in a very low-turnout election in a way that as far as I can tell was intended by no one to suppress votes and has never had the effect of suppressing votes."

Ahh, yes - the common sense approach. Which of course is why it was defeated. And then they shuffle money around later to cover cash shortfalls.

What a bunch of clowns, and Pattsi Petrie, you're the leader of the clowns. What an absolutely STUPID arguement concerning voter suppression.

 

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