Tom Kacich: Hulten taking polling-place consolidation to Springfield

Tom Kacich: Hulten taking polling-place consolidation to Springfield

There will be no polling-place consolidation in the University of Illinois campus area for the April 4 local election, but Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said he's hopeful of getting something through the Legislature this spring.

After much indecision last month, the Champaign County Board voted to establish individual polling places for nine UI-area precincts in the April 4 local election, rather than to consolidate all campus-area voting at the Illini Union.

Hulten said that the polling-place consolidation would be easier on campus-area voters who have become accustomed to voting at the Union, particularly in low-interest local elections, plus it would save the county thousands of dollars.

The state's attorney's office issued an opinion saying that consolidating the poling places could be considered unlawful; some county board Republicans recommended doing it anyway to get a court decision. But county board Democrats, who are the majority, voted to authorize separate polling places for most campus-area precincts.

Now Hulten said he'll take the issue to the Legislature, along with a host of other elections-related issues.

"I am working on a vote center concept, and I am also working on several minor things including more explicitly allowing for polling place consolidation for low turnout elections," he said last week.

He said he has found support for the latter issue among legislators and staff members from both political parties in Springfield.

"I'm hopeful that if anything can happen in Springfield ... either a bunch of things are going to move, or nothing's going to move. If things start to move, I'm hoping we can get an elections cleanup bill," said Hulten, who once worked as a Senate Republican staffer in Springfield. "Nothing will be introduced now."

But watch for something to pop out late in the session, he said.

"The staff traditionally collects suggestions for minor things like that and puts them into one elections bill at the end of May, and we run everything together. That's the way it's been done for several sessions," he said.

Hulten, who is the legislative chairman for the state county clerks association, said his members also want help with budget items as the state assigns more tasks to election authorities without providing money. And they want to make relatively minor changes to vote-by-mail and early voting procedures.

Finally, Hulten thinks the turnout in those campus precincts on April 4 might be even lower than the 53 who voted in the four Urbana precincts in last week's mayoral election.

"I think there will be perhaps a lower turnout in April than there was in February, given what's appearing on the ballot," he said.

Some Republicans on the county board believe, though, that Democrats will target UI students to turn out to vote for a property tax increase to benefit the Champaign County Nursing Home, a question on the April 4 ballot.

Shimkus for secretary?

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, is among four contenders to be the next Army secretary, according to Military Times.

Shimkus, whose congressional district includes Danville, Rantoul, Tuscola, Charleston-Mattoon and much of southern Illinois, had no comment on the report, said his spokesman, Jordan Haverly.

"There's really nothing I have to say about it," said Haverly.

Shimkus, who has a degree in general engineering from West Point, served over five years active duty in the Army, then entered the Army Reserves. He retired in 2008 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Military Times reported that Shimkus is among four current or former congressmen up for the job — the others being Rep. Chris Gibson of New York, retired Republican Congressman Duncan L. Hunter of California, and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who served two terms in the House.

Griffin said he was interviewed for the job on Feb. 7.

That was four days after Vincent Viola, a billionaire businessman, withdrew from consideration after struggling to disentangle his extensive business holdings. Viola also is a West Point graduate.

Mahomet Aquifer

A bill already approaching passage stage in the Illinois Senate would establish a Mahomet Aquifer Protection Task Force that would have to issue a report by July 1, 2018, on ways to protect the underground drinking water source for much of central Illinois.

SB 611, sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, would establish a 22-member group charged with identifying potential and current contamination threats to the aquifer and identifying actions to ensure its protection.

Parkland candidates

Two of the 10 candidates for the Parkland College board in the April 4 election have filed campaign disclosure forms with the State Board of Elections.

Bianca Green of Champaign, who is one of four candidates for a single two-year term on the board, filed a statement of organization last week. She reported having $3,531 in her campaign fund.

And on Monday, she reported a $2,188.55 contribution from Jason and Lynette Dodds of Champaign.

Rochelle Harden, also of Champaign, is one of six candidates for one of three six-year terms on the board. She filed on Monday and reported having one dollar in her campaign treasury.

Only candidates who raise or spend or expect to raise or spend $5,000 within a 12-month period must file paperwork to create a political committee under board of election rules.

Tom Kacich is News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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Westsider wrote on March 08, 2017 at 8:03 am

Gosh. Maybe everyone in the county should vote at the union then if it can save us so much money. Heck, let's quit having elections altogether. That would probably save a bundle.