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Monday, July 29, 2013

Governor Signs Omnibus Election Bill

We previously reported on HB 2418, legislation that would amend various provisions of the Illinois Election Code.  The Governor signed the bill into law today, P.A. 98-115.  There are a number of changes that will affect local governments, local officials, and candidates for local office, in addition to the sweeping changes the law makes to the administration of elections in Lake County and the establishment of online voter registration. 
The following is a summary of a few provisions contained in this new law:
1.  Candidates for Public Office & Municipal Debt
P.A. 98-115 modifies Section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Illinois Municipal Code to allow candidates with a delinquent municipal debt to run for office but if they win, they would have to pay their delinquent debt prior to being sworn in.  This is a change from current law that has been interpreted to prohibit candidates from being on the ballot if they aren't current on their municipal obligations.  

2.   Public Officials & Municipal Debt

P.A. 98-115 would add a new subsection (b-5) to Section 3.1-10-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code that would provide that current municipal officers are not eligible to hold office if they are in arrears to the municipality at any time during their term of office.  As noted in the previous blog post about this bill, the bill is silent as to who would make a determination of ineligibility.  If a municipal officer is ineligible because of a felony conviction, it is a court that makes the determination.  But in the case of ineligibility based on delinquent debt, are the corporate authorities authorized to determine the current officer's eligibility to continue to hold office?  The municipal clerk, treasurer, collector?  Must a quo warranto action be brought?  The bill also fails to amend the vacancy statute to add this particular disqualification to the list of events upon which a vacancy is created.  Finally, the language could encourage political games playing.  Let’s say that a village trustee was a few days late paying for her vehicle sticker – under the local ordinance, this could be an arrearage to the municipality.  Because of the language “at any time,” is she now ineligible to continue as trustee even if she cured the delinquency?  For split boards and councils, this provision is certain to be used as a hammer against officials on opposing sides. 

3.  Lake County Board of Election Commissioners

The law also adds a new provision mandating "any county with a population of more than 700,000 as of the 2010 census that borders another state and borders no more than 2 other Illinois counties to establish a county board of election commissioners.  That new requirement applies only to Lake County, and will take away much of the power that Lake County Clerk Willard Helander currently holds over elections in that county.  Elections would be managed by a five-member panel appointed by the chief judge of the Lake County circuit court.  This particular change has been controversial in Lake County, with the Lake County Board Chairman reported as saying the county has not closed the door on a legal challenge. 

4.  Home Rule Referendum Language

The new law provides specific language for municipalities considering a referendum question on whether to become a home rule unit of local government, an initiative of the Illinois Municipal League.

The bill makes a variety of other changes, including modification of the PAC contribution amounts, authorizing online voter registration, and changes to the school code concerning filing of petitions and election administration.


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