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BLOOMINGTON — Proponents of combining the Bloomington Election Commission and McLean County clerk's office election operations need not look far for examples.

Twenty-five years ago, both Springfield and Peoria had separate election commissions and county clerk election operations, but since then both have gone to a single, unified agency, though in different ways.

Springfield

In 1996, the city of Springfield decided to close its election commission and move all election operations to the Sangamon County clerk's office.

That result, by voter referendum, came a year after city and county officials partnered to drum up community support for consolidation. Bloomington officials have not campaigned for consolidating the BEC and clerk's office.

Fifty-five percent of those voting agreed the Springfield Election Commission should be eliminated, according to county records.

Proponents promoted increased accountability by placing election operations under an elected official — election commissioners are appointed — less voter confusion about which agency to contact, and cost savings.

"Estimated total savings to the county have been an average of 33 percent per four-year election cycle since the consolidation, or just over $7 million in the 16 years since 1997," according to a 2012 document provided by Stacey Kern, director of elections. "The city saved approximately $500,000 annually."

The BEC and McLean County clerk's office are both funded by McLean County.

Opponents said placing elections under a single partisan official would cause problems, as the League of Women Voters McLean County has suggested. They also suggested voters would be confused during the transition, when city residents would need to register again, with the county.

"Many of the arguments against consolidation did not hold true," according to the document. "Administrative steps taken included consolidation of voter registration records, issuance of new (voter ID) cards, consolidation of street files and other electronic documents, public education efforts, resolution of primary election policies and overcoming physical differences in equipment, space and volume of customers."

Peoria

Peoria took a more complicated route in consolidating its election agencies.

Rather than simply eliminating its city commission by referendum, officials pushed for a legislative change that allowed a referendum to both eliminate the Peoria Election Commission and immediately establish a Peoria County Election Commission in its place. That change was limited to counties with specific populations to exclude other communities.

"The thinking of the County Board was (preferring) the bipartisan makeup of the county election commission as opposed to the partisan, elected county clerk. The city election commission was bipartisan, and they liked that model," said Thomas Bride, who has served as executive director of both commissions.

After the referendum passed in 2014 — narrowly in the county but by a large margin in the city — the offices consolidated in 2015, and taxpayers are saving $300,000 per year as a result, said Bride.

Some of that savings was not by choice but as a result of across-the-board county budget cuts, he added.

“The biggest benefit is to the voters. There isn’t any confusion about who they need to contact, and people who move into or out of the city don’t need to change (agencies),” said Bride. "Also, the procedures and policies throughout the county on election day are all the same. ... They were similar before."

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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Normal and McLean County Reporter

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