County clerk race matches history against fresh ideas

By Kathleen Foody

The race for Champaign County Clerk has pitted a longtime politician against a relative newcomer to campaigning.

Incumbent Republican Mark Shelden is seeking his third term as county clerk. He was appointed in April 1997, elected in November 1998 and re-elected in 2002.

Democratic challenger Michael Richards, an alumnus of the University and former Daily Illini reporter, has never run for political office.

However, he has worked on political campaigns, including serving as Senator Barack Obama’s downstate deputy director during his 2004 campaign.

Richards stepped in when Catherine Hogue, Shelden’s original challenger, was forced to leave the race.

He said the office needs to be taken in a different direction and run in a less partisan way, citing alleged partisan attempts to keep campus voting turnout down.

Richards said he is even more concerned with educating college students on the requirements to vote.

“This year there was not as big a campaign as there needs to be to educate college voters on the new requirements for voting,” he said. “Students need to know that they need to bring some form of picture ID and something with their Champaign county address on it. Getting that information out just doesn’t seem to have been as big a priority as I think it should have been this year.”

Richards said that, if elected, he plans to make voting easier and more convenient.

He would also like to set up an election commission made up of a largely professional staff from the clerk’s office and an outside director to ensure fair elections.

Shelden said he feels his office runs elections efficiently and fairly.

“You have to look at how the office is run,” he said. “Republicans, Democrats and independents all work for me, and I think I work with both parties very well.”

Shelden said he feels his office has eliminated problems that have occurred in past election years, but he plans to keep working for improvements if re-elected.

“Down the road, I’m going to continue to look for ways to expand registration opportunities throughout the community,” he said. “There are still a lot of technical issues we want to get resolved, and I’m also hoping to increase Web services and increase efficiency within the office.”

Shelden said he also plans to improve voting conditions in campus area precincts.

“So much of that is based on how much you have in resources,” he said. “But potentially, I would like to set up more registration kiosks. There are also some things I’d like to do with digital signatures and online services.”

Election day is tomorrow, Nov. 7.