ELECTION 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Clerk

ELECTION 2018 QUESTIONNAIRES: Champaign County Clerk

Aaron Ammons, Democrat

1. What kind of administrative changes are needed in the county clerk's office? Is it adequately staffed, or should it have more or fewer employees for the workload?

The most pressing change needed at the Clerk's office is a new County Clerk who has a passion for democracy and a demonstrable code of ethics that voters can trust. I have a proven record of working to expand the most fundamental way Americans defend our democracy, with the ballot. I have personally and voluntarily registered thousands of Champaign County residents to vote. I vote in every election because it's my right, my responsibility, and my honor. As County Clerk administrative changes I would implement would be to build a culture of ethics the voters trust by creating safeguards when the County Clerk is on the ballot. I will institute a policy of refraining from endorsing a successor, and I will correctly observe the ethics rules regarding the usage of official office communication channels for campaign promotion.

I have interacted with the staff on many different occasions in all three divisions of the clerk's office, and I have found them to be competent, professional, and courteous, and I am honored to have received the endorsement of AFSCME Council 31, the union that represents the employees who work in the Clerk's office.

It appears the office is top heavy with managerial staff and upon taking office, I would conduct an audit of positions and responsibilities to ensure taxpayer money is used efficiently.

2. Are there changes in state laws affecting the county clerk's office that you would pursue in your new role?

Yes, there are changes in state laws affecting the County Clerk's office that I would pursue as County Clerk. The most obvious changes are Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), Crosscheck and ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center).

AVR is a proactive measure designed to register Illinoisans at the DMV and other state agencies. It is a new law and still being rolled out, as County Clerk I would be diligent in ensuring my office is adjusting to the law appropriately.

I have been and would continue to support Senate Bill 2273. SB2273 would remove Illinois from the Interstate Voter Registration Data Crosscheck Program system. The program was designed by Kris Kobach solely to remove legitimate voters from the voting rolls. It was suspended in June while under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security due to its vulnerability to breaches but Illinois needs to be formally removed from the program.

While same-day voter registration protects Illinois voters to a degree, the data Illinois submits to Crosscheck is used to disenfranchise voters in other states. It is unethical that anyone who currently, is or wanting to be County Clerk, would encourage and defend participation in this program. It is not accurate to say that because of automatic voter registration and same-day registration Crosscheck does not impact voters in Illinois, that is just not true. A County Clerk who's here because they value and hold sacred the right to vote would not condone this program in any form. There is no ethical or justifiable reason for Illinois to participate in any other program besides ERIC, which is used by 20 states and offers an efficient means of maintaining voter rolls with better procedural safeguards against disenfranchisement and without Cross Check's vulnerabilities.

3. Do you believe Champaign County's election system is properly secure? If not, what needs to be done?

I believe the mechanical logistics of our voting system are secure. We use paper ballots, and the voting machines are not connected to the internet.

I do not believe the Clerk's office is operated with transparency or integrity and that jeopardizes the authenticity and accuracy of our election results. Champaign County has long been a source of questionable actions from the County Clerk, starting in 1975 when a landmark case came from a University of Illinois student's legal challenge to the County Clerk's refused to allow students to register at their local address and vote here. Since then Champaign County has been the source of legislative action because of voter disenfranchisement efforts by a previous Clerk, requiring it to be written in state statute that the Illini Union is used as an early voting site. Every election cycle brings some kind of discrepancy in ballot totals, issues with access to polling locations, vote tabulators that jam frequently, and polling locations insufficiently stocked with ballots.

This is the direct result of single-party control over the office for the last 80 years and a tradition of the incumbent Clerk handing the office to his chosen successor without a fair and open election where the voters of Champaign County truly decide.

4. Are there things you would do to expand voter access in Champaign County? If so, what would be the cost and do you believe the county could afford it?

Yes, voter access is one of my top priorities and a significant motivator for why I am running. The personal work I've done for the last 15 years has focused on a need for better voter access.

I am pledging $5,000 of my salary to fund a new voter outreach and engagement program.

My voter access initiatives would center on reviving the commitment to voting as a cultural norm. Educating high school students on the role of voting, how government works, and the value of their voice in local politics is critical. Facilitating voter registration for the 40,000 students that come to Urbana-Champaign every semester and providing stable and consistent polling locations would help expand their access. Collaborating with rural voters to make sure polling locations are accessible and making sure they know mail-in ballots are an option would make voting more accessible for them. I will facilitate a culture in the Clerk's office that expands respectful and accommodating assistance to differently-abled voters.

However, beyond all of these initiatives, having a Clerk who is passionate about expanding the voting franchise with a proven track record of protecting voting rights, guarding our democracy, and serving as an elected official will bring a level of voter access and voter engagement not seen in Champaign County before."

5. Do you believe the county recorder's office should be folded into the clerk's office as a money-saving move?

As a taxpayer, I expect our government entities to utilize revenue wisely and as County Clerk, I will look for ways to save taxpayer dollars without sacrificing services. I appreciate the County Board's decision to ask the residents of Champaign County how they feel about a merger but this must be an informed and accurate dialogue. The Board should facilitate small group discussions, host town halls, and present best practices to the voters.

I do not believe it is the place of an elected official to decide if another elected position should be eliminated or not, that is up to the majority of the voters to decide."

6. How important is it that a candidate for county clerk has experience in the office?

Experience working in the office is not essential, but a broader array of expertise is necessary. As 1 of 6 statewide elected trustees of the state university retirement system, I represent the interests of 228,000 pensioners in a $20 billion fund. I have been endorsed by AFSCME, the union representing the employees of the Champaign County Clerk's office. I am an experienced elected official, I have served as Alderman for the city of Urbana for four years. I have been dedicated to my community for the last 20 years. I have voluntarily registered thousands of voters in Champaign County. I am in my 3rd term as president of SEIU Local 73 Chapter 119. I have mediated hundreds of employment conflicts, negotiated multiple contracts, and provided guidance and training to union members.

But more telling than any of that? Since 2003 I have voted in every election. That's 26 times. My opponent has voted ten times since 2003. I have the expertise necessary, and I value and exercise my right to vote. My opponent votes because it's part of his job. That's not the kind of record we can trust in the County Clerk's office.

7. How do you view your role with regard to the new county executive who will take office in December?

Whoever the first County Executive is, she, or he, will have the task of defining and developing the position. My relationship to that person will be to represent the responsibilities and role of the County Clerk's office accurately with a focus on what serves the residents of Champaign County best.

Fortunately, I have extensive experience working with government entities and officials as an Urbana Alderman, in my work with our court system on the jury selection process, collaborating with the Circuit Clerk's office to organize an expungement summit, and addressing community-police relations with our local police departments and State's Attorney office.

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Matt Grandone, Republican

1. What kind of administrative changes are needed in the county clerk's office? Is it adequately staffed, or should it have more or fewer employees for the workload?

I think the most beneficial administrative change that our office can make to move the office forward is to utilize available grant money to transition a part-time contractual programmer to a full-time internal staff-member. This would allow us to adapt more quickly to the ever-changing landscape of the Illinois Election code as well to implement time-saving technology like digital signature capturing, which will ultimately allows us to save time pre and post-election and to constantly evolve and become more efficient. By utilizing available grant funds we can accomplish this change without any additional costs to taxpayers. Although we've had record turnout Elections in Champaign County over the last four years, our office has been able to provide a high-level service with less staff members than we've had over the last ten years by continuing to look for ways to improve processes and procedures to become as efficient as possible.

2. Are there changes in state laws affecting the county clerk's office that you would pursue in your new role?

Absolutely, there are more than can be mentioned in the space provided, most of which would have zero effect on how voters cast their ballot, but would allow Election Administrators across the state to provide a better level of service. One example of a simple change to the Election Code that would benefit all Election Administrators is, the timelines for petition filing and objections could be brought forward in the Election Calendar to account for the change in traditional voting patterns. These timelines have remained unchanged even though we now have 40 days of no-excuse Early Voting and vote-by-mail voting which means ballot creation must be done well before Election Day. The problems arise when there are drawn-out petition objections that often times end up in the court system and push up against the deadlines for having ballots ready, or as was the case with the 2016 Presidential Primary actually causes a delay in Early Voting in every county in Illinois. A simple change in this calendar would ensure that Election Authorities across the state never have to worry about not starting voting on the first day allowable under law. Additionally, there needs to be a mechanism for budget allocations from the state to be passed to local Election Authorities to upgrade Election equipment going forward on a yearly basis. Elections are one of the most important things we do and yet the amount of money spent by the state on assisting Election Authorities to implement changes in the Election Code is almost nothing.

3. Do you believe Champaign County's election system is properly secure? If not, what needs to be done?

I am absolutely confident in the security of Champaign County's election system and the processes and procedures that are already in place for elections, but there is always more we can do. First and foremost, we already use a paper-ballot system, allowing us a level of security and accountability that is unmatched by touch screen voting. The Champaign County Clerk's office, more than maybe any other County Clerk's office in the State, does the bulk of our election preparation in-house without the use of an outside vendor. This in-house preparation, allows us a measure of control and an ability to monitor Election integrity beyond the minimum statutory requirements of the State. We test all machines multiple times prior to each election and always invite the public to attend our last public test before election day, when memory cards are sealed in machines. Additionally, none of our tabulators are connected to the internet, nor is the computer we use to read memory cards with results, making it nearly impossible to hack our voting machines without being physically plugged into the back of a machine. During the 2016 election, our office was able to demonstrate how secure and accurate Champaign County's voting system is when there was a recount in the race for Champaign County Auditor. During that recount, almost 27,000 ballots were re-tabulated as well as hand counted, and when all was said and done, the results remained unchanged. This recount was in addition to the 5% of ballots that we are required by the state to re-tabulate and hand count after every single election (which is also open to the public) to allow for checks and balances within the system and which resulted in zero errors. There's always more we can do to try to make our systems more secure and we are constantly looking at ways to accomplish this. For example, I recently went to Springfield to advocate with other Election Administrators to attempt to expedite the funds made available to states to upgrade their information technology security. We've taken the initial steps to take part in the states Cyber Navigator program to be eligible for these funds when they do become available. Additionally, I've taken part in trainings sponsored by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in conjunction with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to learn how to improve our responses to possible threats to our systems.

4. Are there things you would do to expand voter access in Champaign County? If so, what would be the cost and do you believe the county could afford it?

Yes, there are additional Early Voting locations that could be added to increase voter access. Early Voting allows voters more choices when casting their ballot and our data shows that once voters utilize Early Voting (or vote-by-mail voting) once, they tend to not go back to voting on Election Day. The additional cost to do this would be negligible, if not altogether nothing, once cost-savings are factored in. By offering additional Early Voting locations, we shift turnout away from Election Day and can utilize the savings in Election Judges on Election Day to pay for additional early judges and one-time equipment purchases to accommodate this change.

5. Do you believe the county recorder's office should be folded into the clerk's office as a money-saving move?

As the Election Authority, it would not be appropriate for the County Clerk to comment on referenda that may appear on the ballot. Much like the decision to sell the Champaign County nursing home, this is an issue that will ultimately be decided by members of the Champaign County Board as well as the voters of Champaign County. I believe that if the voters of Champaign County decide that this is the best way for the County to move forward, the staff at the Champaign County Clerk's office and the Recorder of Deeds' office would be able to provide the same high-level of service they've come to expect from both offices without increasing costs to taxpayers."

6. How important is it that a candidate for county clerk has experience in the office?

I believe that experience should be one of the first things that voters factor into their decision of which candidate to support. Elections are like job interviews, just really long ones. My job as a candidate is to present a good resume, one that shows I can do the job. Like bosses, voters are looking for experience and evaluating the candidate's skills to see if they are ready to take on the challenges of the job. I've been fortunate to have spent the last four years as the Director of Training for the County Clerk's office, and as a member of the office's management team I have overseen the running of eight elections. Every day for the last four years I have worked to provide the high-quality of service that people expect from our office by making sure that our front-line election workers and staff are properly trained to assist voters in casting their ballots at the polls. My experience will allow our office to have a smooth transition post-election and ensure that there is no disruption in service. My experience also allows me to know the areas where improvements can be made such as implementing more technology, like digital signature capturing in our voting process to save staff-time and money, and to have the ability to move forward with those changes in a timely manner.

7. How do you view your role with regard to the new county executive who will take office in December?

I think it's critical that the next County Clerk has a good relationship with the County Executive. The County Executive is going to be the leader in advocating on behalf of the needs of all county offices. The County Clerk and Executive are going to have to work together to help solve some of the financial issues facing the county so that the Clerk's office can continue to provide, and improve, the services that residents have come to expect from our office. Within the next two to three years, our Election equipment is going to start to reach it's shelf-life and the bill to replace it is approximately $1.2 million. This is money not currently budgeted anywhere in future budgets so we will need a strong County Executive to not only help increase county fund balances but use existing relationships in Springfield to advocate for additional funds from the state to help defray the costs of replacing our equipment.

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