Champaign County Board reacts to election commission results

By Nick Escobar

On Nov. 2, Champaign County voted 38,093 to 34,585 against a proposed elections commission.

The Champaign County Board made the initial proposition in 2003 for the creation of the commission, but failed to pass it by a vote of 14 to 13. The board decided to add the referendum to last week’s ballot in hopes of alleviating some of the county clerk’s duties, as some Democrats on the board said they felt Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden is biased.

As it stands now, the county clerk’s office handles all matters dealing with local elections, such as counting ballots and choosing election judges. Shelden, a Republican, was first elected to office in 1998. He was re-elected in 2002 and will be up for re-election in 2006.

Shelden said he is happy that the referendum was defeated and is glad that the county clerk’s office will maintain its duties for upcoming elections.

“Every election we change,” Shelden said. “We take advice from staff, election judges and if there’s something we can do better, we take it into consideration.”

However, county board member Ralph Langenheim said he still has problems with the county clerk’s office.

“Under the current partisan system, (the) elected official hires staff, recruits judges, gets machines in shape and then counts votes,” Langenheim said. “He does it without any supervision.”

Langenheim, who was in favor of the elections commission, said the commission would have hired a non-partisan professional to oversee the committee.

One argument against the elections commission was the financial burden it would place on county taxpayers, although county board members gave different estimates for the cost. Board member Patty Busboom said the projected cost for the elections commission would be around $200,000, while Sheldon said it could cost as much as $300,000.

Money aside, party lines have split the board on whether the issue is resolved or not – even after the election.

“It’s not dead,” Langenheim said. “(Democrats) made a big tactile blunder by not campaigning vigorously. I was pretty vocal about it. I went door-to-door and found that many voters did not understand the referendum.”

Busboom disagrees.

“One person who wanted it really bad is no longer on the board,” Busboom said. “Voters had (their) say. Why do we need another government committee?”

Busboom, a Republican, added that she would have been in favor of the elections commission if she had not seen the tour and order of operations at the county clerk’s office.

“(Shelden) has gotten awards for his election booklet,” Busboom said. “Other counties look to us as an example.”

She noted that if an elections commission had been created, Shelden would likely be on it.

“We certainly hope (the election commission issue) is resolved,” Shelden said.

Langenheim said a main reason for the creation of an elections committee was the complaints they received from student districts about unfair treatment at polling places.

“In my opinion, we should put it on the spring ballot,” Langenheim said.