URBANA – It's the controversy that won't die.
Even after the Legislature passed and Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill requiring some Illinois counties to establish special early-voting centers on college campuses this fall, there's still a dispute over the legislation.
This time it's about where the polling place should be on the University of Illinois campus.
UI students say it should be in the Illini Union. Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden, a Republican, said that's an "inappropriate" location.
Shelden said he's prepared to sign a lease to put the polling place in a vacant storefront at Gregory Place, 700 S. Gregory St., U.
Just to add to the dispute, the storefront is owned by JSM Development. One of the JSM principals is Steve Hartman, the former chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party.
Still, not everything about the early-voting center can't be resolved. One of Shelden's complaints – that it would prove expensive to the county to operate the polling place – has been settled in part with a $72,000 grant from the State Board of Elections. That money will pay for 12 ballot tabulators and ballot boxes to be used at the polling place. The county board will consider accepting that grant at its committee of the whole meeting Tuesday night. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.
Shelden said, though, that operating the campus polling place, which will open Oct. 11, still will cost the county between $10,000 and $20,000.
The Illini Union, Shelden said, is the only space that has been offered by university officials.
"The only place the university says they have is the Pine Lounge at the Illini Union. I've made it very clear that I don't think that's an appropriate spot for a variety of reasons," he said.
He said both the College Democrats and College Republicans have offices in the Union and that the building is a center of political activity. But state law prohibits politicking within 100 feet of a polling place.
"If I said I was going to open up an early voting place on the first floor of a building where the (Republican National Committee) was on the second floor, would I get grief on that or not?" he said.
Further, he said he doesn't want to have to settle disputes about politicking at the building.
"You can't have half of the Courtyard Cafe in there be a no politicking zone," he said. "But when (independent gubernatorial candidate) Scott Lee Cohen puts up sandwich board signs in the Illini Union, I'm going to be the one who gets the call to determine what's 100 feet. I'm going to have to drop everything here and run over to the Union to mediate political battles. I'm not going to do that."
But Devin Mapes, president of the Illini Democrats, said the Union is centrally located, is a familiar campus landmark and has been used before as a polling place.
"In the Nov. 2, 2008, election the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union was used," Mapes said.
Gregory Place is "far outside the mainstream of campus," he said. "I would say that most university students couldn't tell you where Gregory Place is. And the law requires that the polling place be on campus. Yes, the university owns the ground that Gregory Place is on, but it's leased by a private business. We just think the Union is a better, more identifiable place."
Mapes said the College Republicans, the Illinois Student Senate and a nonpartisan group known as I Vote support putting the early voting site in the Union.
"This isn't a partisan issue," he said.
But Shelden said the Gregory Street storefront has better parking, is convenient to residence halls and is only a half-mile from the Union.
"There's no reason why it can't be very successful there. And for a host of people its more convenient," he said.
Renting the 1,200 sq. ft. space will cost the county $800 for three weeks. But Shelden denied any conflict of interest, renting from the former county Republican chairman.
"There's no legal problem. There's no ethical problem. Is there a problem that I'm going to get beat up on it? I suppose. This whole thing has been me getting beat up left, right and sideways," said Shelden.
Also on the agenda for Tuesday's county board meeting is a resolution to allow county voters to decide next April whether to eliminate the office of county auditor and have the duties given to an appointed official.
A similar question was supposed to be on the Nov. 2 election ballot but was eliminated because of a technicality.
The same county board members who promoted the issue last year are pushing it again this time.
"The reason why this is not on the ballot this fall is because of technical glitches," said rural Urbana Democrat Steve Beckett. "I would hope that county board members see that the public has a right to answer this question and that they will support it even if they don't think the auditors office should be replaced, even if they would campaign against eliminating it."