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Clerks lobby against election filing deadline on Christmas Eve

Published: Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 9:29 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — The deadline for candidates to file their petitions to run for thousands of local offices across the state in April falls on Christmas Eve this year — and that's not making municipal clerks very merry.

"Even though it's not an official state holiday, people want to be with family, friends, at church," said Joseph Schatteman, deputy legislative director with the Illinois Municipal League.

One solution that's been suggested is to make Christmas Eve a state holiday. Another is to just change the deadline for this year, or permanently move it to the first week of December. Nothing's been decided.

State law says candidates in consolidated elections — which include races for seats on school boards and village councils — must file their petitions to run between 106 days and 113 days before the election.

Although that election day typically falls during the first week of April on odd-numbered years, it was moved to the second week of April in 2013 to avoid Passover, as outlined in the state's election code, according to Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

But what that meant for Christmas Eve got overlooked — and such a contingency is not addressed in state code. The week for filing works out to Dec. 17 through Dec. 24 this year.

Compounding the problem is that municipalities are left to interpret for themselves exactly what the deadline for filing actually means.

The Illinois Municipal League, which represents 1,100 municipalities, and the Township Officials of Illinois, which represents 1,400 townships, are lobbying the Illinois State Board of Elections and the governor's office to change the filing deadline to Dec. 26.

That's because, as things stand, hundreds of municipal clerks across the state will be working on Christmas Eve to accept candidate filing petitions, even if their office is closed.

The Municipal Clerks of Illinois has been in talks with the state elections board to clarify expectations because local governments set their own holiday calendars, said Kittie Kopitke, immediate past president of the group, which has 885 members.

The issue also is complicated by the fact that every municipality functions differently, with different hours and even days of operation.

"Clerks are pretty upset to be working on Christmas Eve," said Kopitke, who is the village clerk of Streamwood. "I'm required to be here — and I'd be here alone from 8 a.m. (to) 5 p.m."

She added: "It's part of the job. This is the most important task of every election cycle."

Clerks have considered limiting hours, moving their location and delegating a different employee or even a different public agency to receive the filings, according to officials.

The board of elections' Menzel said the election code requires only that the candidates be allowed to file the paperwork until 5 p.m. on deadline day. He said he is not giving legal advice about any variables the clerks have proposed. Each municipality, he said, should interpret the code with its own lawyers.

"We don't have authority to generate rules just because we think it would be helpful," Menzel said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers have pitched proposals to change the election code altogether.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Sycamore, introduced a bill in July that would amend the code to include Christmas Eve as a state holiday. A second House bill, filed in September by Rep. Timothy Schmitz, R-Geneva, would set the filing period to the first week of December.

Both lawmakers cited cost as a reason to tackle the issue, related to overtime or holiday pay for the clerks to operation of an otherwise closed public facility. Schmitz said it would be easier and cheaper for taxpayers if the date were changed.

"Having a filing period on Christmas Eve is just not acceptable. It's not workable for the clerks; it's not workable for the village halls or county buildings," Schmitz said.

But from the board of elections' viewpoint, Menzel said, "We don't set the filing deadlines as a matter of discretion."

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