Tuesday, December 2, 2014 || Originally Published: November 21, 2014 by Chicago Tribune || Sally Ho || Updated: 1:47 PM
Hundreds of school board candidates in suburban Cook County may have to schlep into Chicago to claim a spot on the ballot for the April election, a change prompted by state law that some fear will discourage suburbanites from seeking elective office.
“All of us have to go down there. We’ll be in a line from the Loop to Lake Michigan,” said Bill Dussling, school board president of Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, who announced he will run for office again. “It’s just ridiculous.”
A new state law requires all school board candidates to file to their respective county commissions. Previously, those looking to serve their local community would file directly to the school district headquarters.
The April 7, 2015, consolidated election marks the first time that the Cook County clerk’s office will handle and oversee candidate petitions and objections for the roughly 140 suburban school districts in its jurisdiction. About 700 candidates are expected to turn in their petitions during the Dec. 15-22 filing period, said Courtney Greve, a county clerk’s spokeswoman.
Greve said the office has not received complaints from would-be candidates, but officials are now organizing suburban outposts for the first day of filing. The locations haven’t been finalized.
The suburban spots will lessen the burden of the change to downtown, as most candidates file on the first day anyway, Greve said.
Still, Dussling thinks the change will discourage candidates from putting in the effort to collect the paperwork needed to run for office, noting that those suburban locations are not yet established.
“What it means is that anybody who doesn’t file on the first day is probably going to have to go downtown,” he said. “If you’re trying to get people interested in running for positions — gosh, this doesn’t seem like the way to do it.”
The county said it is “very comfortable” handling the school board candidate filings because it already does so for countywide offices, including the Cook County Board of Commissioners and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
“It’s a process we do anyway, but it’s a process we typically do for the even-year elections. Now we’re doing it for the odd-year elections,” Greve said.
Greve also said that having the county handle the local election filings will help smooth out the objections process. Instead of each district cobbling together an electoral board when candidates or petitions are challenged, all cases will be heard by county officials who will be dedicated election law experts.
“I think it’s really a move to make it, hopefully, more efficient and more uniform in how the cases are handled and, hopefully, a speedier process so that the ballot can be resolved in a timely fashion,” Greve said.
Still, not everyone is happy with the new law mandating the change. The Illinois Association of School Boards, which advises hundreds of schools on policy changes, said it lobbied against the law because it takes away the role and expertise of the local school districts.
“(The school districts) were really well-prepared to handle the elections. Now we’re not so sure how (the county is) prepared,” said Jim Russell, associate executive director of the association.
The new law only changes things for school boards. It does not affect the elected boards of other local offices, such as townships, park districts, library districts, fire protection districts, village boards or city councils. Those candidates will continue to file directly to the government agency itself. VFP