NEWS

Appointments lag to State Board of Elections

CHRIS WETTERICH

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn hasn’t appointed anyone to the State Board of Elections since he took office, even though the terms of all eight members have expired, some for as long as four years.

Under state law, Quinn formally appoints all eight members and chooses the four Democrats who will serve. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a Republican, draws up a list of four Republicans to submit to Quinn for appointment. The governor is supposed to make the appointments by April 1 in odd-numbered years.

Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said Quinn should have made more timely appointments to the board.

“The State Board of Elections is an extraordinarily important agency,” Canary said. “It shows a certain lack of respect not to ensure that your appointees are up to date. We have benefited over the years from a number of great appointees.

“This is clearly an area of law that is evolving very quickly. Our state board has to deal with very important issues, close elections, all of these kinds of challenges. I think it sends the absolute wrong signal.”

Blagojevich blamed

Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson said the governor would make the appointments by April 1. She pointed to Quinn’s efforts to open up the appointments process to the public through a website, http://appointments.illinois.gov.

“It is absolutely not fair to say that Governor Quinn has been ‘lax’ about making timely appointments,” Thompson said in response to a question, noting that Quinn inherited a backlog of appointees with expired terms or offices with vacancies when he took over for Rod Blagojevich in early 2009.

“We can blame the last guy for years to come,” Canary responded. “There is no doubt that when Governor Quinn came to office, he had to deal with a world of pain. I respect that and understand that, and I just think that it is time to move on with this.”

Topinka has submitted three names for each of the four spots for Quinn to choose from, as prescribed by state law, said the comptroller’s spokesman, Brad Hahn. She met a March 1 deadline to do so, Hahn said.

Hahn declined to release the names, saying Topinka did not want to embarrass anyone publicly who is not ultimately selected.

No negative effect

Four of the election board’s current members — Democrats John Keith and William McGuffage and Republicans Jesse Smart and Bryan Schneider — have been serving without being reappointed since 2007. The other four — Democrats Bryan Schneider and Wanda Rednour and Republicans Pat Brady and Bob Walters — have been serving without reappointment since 2009.

As chairman, Schneider makes $58,441, while Rednour makes $48,004 as vice chairman. The other members make $37,571.

Brady, who works for Federal Signal in Chicago and shares a name with state GOP chairman Pat Brady, said being in appointment limbo has not damaged the board’s work. Brady said he has not heard from Topinka on whether she will recommend he be reappointed.

“I think everybody on the board understands there is a process,” Brady said. “If the winds change, we go with it.”

While the House and Senate passed legislation that eventually would boot appointees who continue to serve past the expiration of their terms, that bill would not apply to members of the State Board of Elections. Senate Bill 1, which is sitting on Quinn’s desk waiting for action, was passed with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Quinn has until April 18 to act or the bill automatically becomes law.

Paid, unpaid posts

Senate drafters of the bill decided it would not apply to the State Board of Elections because those appointments have to be made as a group, involve a constitutional officer other than the governor and require three-fifths or two-thirds of senators to vote in favor of confirmation, depending on the circumstances. That’s a significant difference from other gubernatorial appointments, which require a simple majority for confirmation, said Eric Madiar, Senate President John Cullerton’s chief legislative counsel.

Cleaning up the appointment process has been one of Cullerton’s top priorities. He has expressed concern that so many expired appointees continue to hold paid and unpaid posts throughout state government. On Friday, Cullerton’s office urged Quinn to sign SB1.

“For too long the appointment process has operated in shadows of the Capitol. Senate Bill 1 sheds light on that appointment process and brings needed accountability and transparency,” said Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon. “The governor has spent his public service career pushing for reforms that open up the political process. The fact that he didn't immediately act to accomplish that goal for the appointment process is disconcerting.”

Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.

On the Web

More information on the State Board of Elections appointment process