BLOOMINGTON — McLean County residents tired of having two different agencies conducting local elections may have an unlikely savior.
After years of gridlock on whether the McLean County Clerk's office or an independent agency like the Bloomington Election Commission should take over local elections, a petition that could end the BEC is circulating via the McLean County Libertarian Party.
“The county has been having discussions about it, but no one has ever taken action on it, so we thought we could be the ones,” said Bennett Morris, chair of the county Libertarian Party. "We've been thinking about ways to make an impact without having anyone elected to office yet, and this is a good one."
Currently, the BEC conducts elections in the city, and the clerk's office handles the rest of the county, including Normal.
Some officials have long pushed for consolidation to a single agency, including, most recently, County Administrator Bill Wasson this fall. County Board member Chuck Erickson, chair of the McLean County Republican Party, supports consolidation, preferably into the county clerk's office. Board member Erik Rankin, a Democrat, also voiced support for consolidation at the board's meeting on Tuesday.
The BEC could be dissolved by referendum. Removing the county clerk's office from the picture is more complicated; that would require county board action or a legislative change allowing a referendum.
"The county would prefer that duty be absorbed into our election duties through the clerk’s office,” County Board Chair John McIntyre said previously. "We’ll return to that if there were to be a referendum.”
On Tuesday, McIntyre said he hopes the board will act on the idea in 2018.
The only outside group to express interest in getting a referendum on the ballot, the League of Women Voters McLean County, has declined to do so unless county officials pledge to then take elections from the clerk's office in favor of a countywide election commission.
The Libertarian Party started circulating petitions last week and had 20 signatures as of Friday. Morris hopes to get the necessary 1,000 by August to get a referendum eliminating the BEC on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Morris acknowledges the wording on the petition — "Shall the city election law be rejected?" — is obtuse, but it's the legally-required referendum to dissolve the BEC, according to a 2016 memo from McLean County Assistant State's Attorney Don Knapp.
“We have reached out to some Republicans and Democrats. We would like to make this a multi-partisan issue and get multi-party support,” said Morris. "Anyone who wants to sign the petition or circulate it can go to our website and print it off. You do not need to fill out the entire sheet to turn it in."
Morris said those who circulate petitions should contact him to return them. Once 1,000 signatures are collected, the party can get them notarized and submitted — probably to the county clerk.
"That's another confusion: do we turn it in to the county clerk's office or BEC?" said Morris with a laugh. "I believe it’s the clerk, but that’s another example. It’s ironic that we do not know specifically which one to turn it into.”
BEC Executive Director Paul Shannon and County Clerk Kathy Michael declined to comment on the petition. Both have spoken in favor of consolidation in the past.