Rep. Ammons proposes state Election Code revamp

Rep. Ammons proposes state Election Code revamp

SPRINGFIELD — State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, has proposed a change in election years for three county offices.

An amendment Ammons filed earlier this week to House Bill 531 would change the state Election Code to shift the election years for county clerks, sheriffs and treasurers — last elected in 2018 — to presidential election years.

Under Ammons' proposal, county clerks, sheriffs and treasurers would be elected to two-year terms the next time those offices are up for election in 2022. Then, those offices would revert back to four-year terms starting in 2024.

Ammons said changing the election years for those three offices is intended to boost voter participation for those races.

In Illinois, county auditors, circuit clerks, coroners, recorders and state's attorneys are already on the ballot in presidential election years, and the county clerks, sheriffs and treasurers are elected in gubernatorial election years.

Ammons said she plans to work on the bill over the summer with input from stakeholders, but some opposition is already lining up.

"We would be opposed," said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Sheriffs Association.

It's hard enough to get people to run for sheriff without changing one election cycle to a two-year term, he said.

But a major issue with Ammons' proposal for his organization — shared by the Douglas and Vermilion county clerks — is the possibility that all new county officials could be taking office at the same time.

The current system of staggering county elections means there are experienced people running some county offices who can help newcomers in others, and electing all of them at the same time could mean the loss of that continuity, they said.

"And part of the reason that sheriffs and state's attorneys don't run at the same time is for some kind of continuity in law enforcement through staggered terms," Kaitschuk said.

Vermilion County Clerk Cathy Jenkins and Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Judi Pollock said there isn't that much difference in voter participation during presidential and gubernatorial elections in their counties, though participation does fall off for local consolidated elections that include races for such local offices as school boards and mayors.

"I think having everybody new at one big election is a little bit concerning for me," Jenkins said.

Illinois typically has a contested governor's race, Pollock said, and she doubts shifting the elections of the three county offices to presidential election years would make much difference in voter turnout.

Plus, she said, "you could be seating all brand new elected officials over the county, and they'd all be brand new at the same time, and I think that's a disservice to our citizens."

Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing said she likes Ammons' idea, because she wants to see more voters involved in choosing their elected officials.

She would even take the idea a step further and shift the local offices elected in the consolidated elections to presidential election years to boost the number of voters making decisions in those races, Prussing said.

As it is now, she said, "you don't have that many people deciding things, and you get strange results."

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