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County clerks: Deadlines for primary may be hard to meet

Thursday, June 07, 2007
Pioneer Press

Supporters say a Feb. 5 primary date for the 2008 elections will give Illinois voters a greater say in choosing their political party's nominee for president.
However, county election officials are concerned they will have to scramble to meet the new election deadlines, and critics of the legislation contend an earlier primary could actually hurt challengers running for office.
Illinois lawmakers recently passed a plan to move the general primary election from the third Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February in even-numbered years. If Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs the bill into law as expected, next year's primary will be Feb. 5.
House Speaker Michael Madigan proposed the legislation in the House to give Illinois voters more of a say in the presidential primary process and a boost to favorite son Sen. Barack Obama.
"The effort was to give Illinois more of a voice in choosing the nominee," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "In the past, by the time it got to the middle of March, those decisions were often pretty well decided."
Filing deadlines also will be moved up for candidates running in the primary. With the March primary, candidate filing traditionally started the second week in December. With a Feb. 5 primary, the Illinois State Board of Elections is expected to move up the filing period to Oct. 29-Nov. 5, which means candidates could begin circulating petitions in early August.
In a joint letter dated May 22, county clerks from Cook, Lake, McHenry and DuPage counties as well as Chicago and Aurora election officials urged lawmakers to move up the deadlines for filing nominating petitions and objections another 28 days. That would mean petition filing for the February primary would begin in early October.
"Our concern is that candidates currently would file for office in November. In order to print absentee ballots by late December and settle the other ballots by early January, there would be little more than a month to handle any objections and court cases--all during the weeks that include Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Day. This is unfair to the many participants and increases the probability of balloting crises in our state," the letter stated.
"If that calendar is not changed, you would not have time to prepare the ballot," echoed Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Orr said it's not just an issue of the Feb. 5 primary date, but election staff need more time for elections in general because of new voting options such as early voting and grace-period voting.
"It takes a lot of time to do these things, and there's always a question of legal challenges (to candidate petitions)," he said.
It appears unlikely at this point that election officials will receive the extra time they want for the February primary because the bill has already passed both Houses of the Illinois General Assembly and is awaiting the governor's signature.
"At the very least, the objections aren't very timely," said Brown. "If they had objections, they probably should have brought them up earlier."
Despite the concerns, supporters contend an earlier primary will give Illinois voters more input into the presidential nominating process. In the past, they say smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire often had a huge influence on who the parties nominated for president. The Illinois primary was often held too late to affect the outcome.
"Illinois is a large state. We are representative of the nation. The drive to make the primary earlier is to give Illinois a greater say in who our national candidates are," said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones, D-14th, of Chicago, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
However, State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-27th, of Palatine, who voted against the bill, said he believes an earlier primary benefits incumbents because primary challengers won't have enough time to raise money to run an effective campaign.
"The whole campaign is in the middle of winter so it's kind of hard to get people out knocking on doors," he said. "You can't even get a yard sign in the ground."
Murphy said an earlier primary also increases the likelihood that candidates will campaign over the holiday season. "I just can't believe that's going to be well received (by the voters)," he said.

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