Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago

Commissioners

Langdon D. Neal, Chairman
Richard A. Cowen, Secretary/Commissioner
Marisel A. Hernandez, Commissioner

Lance Gough, Executive Director
Kelly Bateman, Asst. Executive Director

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About the Chicago Election Board

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  The Board's Mission
  The Board's History
  The Board's Record of Accomplishment
  Contact the Board / Board Meetings

The Board's Mission

The mission of the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago is to administer a transparent, impartial and accurate election system.  This includes managing voter registrations; safeguarding the rights of all voters to cast ballots independently in a safe and quiet atmosphere, free of interference or intimidation; and informing voters of all of their balloting options, such as Election Day voting, Early Voting and Absentee Voting.

The Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago is the quasi-judicial arm of the courts directly responsible for: providing an election system that is equitable, accessible and transparent; promoting convenient voter registration systems; maintaining state-of-the-art equipment and registration records; performing all statutory duties under federal and state election codes; and providing information to foster voter participation in the electoral franchise.

The Board's History

During the late 1800s, an election reform movement was sweeping the United States of America, particularly in major urban centers.  These reforms focused on transferring control of the electoral franchise from elected officials to independent election professionals.  In the 1880s in Chicago, civic leaders including former Chicago Mayor and Chicago Tribune Publisher Joseph Medill were among those heading a campaign seeking these reforms.

The most common reform model of the time involved the formation an independent Board of Election Commissioners, whose members could neither be elected officials nor participate in political campaigns. Under this system of election administration, the Board of Election Commissioners serves as an extension of the Judicial branch of the government - the same branch of government already involved in deciding other election matters, such as candidate access to the ballot and election recounts.

At the urging of civic leaders, lawmakers in Springfield approved enabling legislation in 1885 to let the voters of any Illinois municipality determine whether to form a local Board of Election Commissioners. As the City of Chicago was still comprised of townships, separate referenda were conducted in each township.  Overwhelming majorities of voters in every Chicago township voted to create one Board of Election Commissioners for the entire city.

As a result, Cook County became like many other major jurisdictions in the United States: with an Election Board overseeing voter registration and election administration in the central city and the County Clerk overseeing the same for suburban areas.

The three members of the Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago are appointed by the Cook County Circuit Court to three-year terms. In a 3 year cycle, only one Commissioner's term expires each year.  By law, the Board membership must include at least one member from each of the state's two leading political parties.  Based on primary balloting, those parties are the Democratic and Republican parties.  A prospective Commissioner's political affiliation is determined by his or her record for selecting ballots at Primary Elections.

The Chicago Election Board oversees one of the largest election operations in the United States with approximately 1.4 million registered voters in 2,069 precincts, roughly one and a half times the number of precincts in the State of Iowa.

The Board of Election Commissioners for the City of Chicago sets policies for the agency and oversees the activities of the Executive Director related to voter registration programs and election management, equipment, budgeting, purchasing and human resources. Serving also as the Electoral Board, the Commissioners also decide matters related to which candidates qualify for the ballot for all City offices.  The Electoral Board also determines ballot access in state legislative and Congressional districts whose boundaries are entirely in Chicago or that span Chicago and suburban Cook County.  Electoral Board decisions can be appealed in the Courts.

In most years, the Board administers two citywide elections.  The Board staff of approximately 130 full-time employees maintain the records, program equipment and make preparations throughout the year. Central to the Board activities are year-round preparations so that the agency can train and deploy more than 15,000 temporary poll workers to serve in the polling places on Election Day and report election results after the polls close.  Under the direction of the Board and its Executive Director, the full-time staff oversee: the management of voter registration systems; preparation of the ballots; mapping systems for precincts and districts; designation and renting of polling places; hiring and training of judges of election, poll workers and investigators; management of the warehouse; programming and shipping of election equipment to and from the polling places; and reporting, canvassing and archiving all election results and related data from each election.

The Board's Record of Accomplishments

 -- The Board leads the United States of America in engaging young people in the administration of elections.  In each citywide election, the Board trains and deploys 4,000 high school and college students to serve as Judges of Election and Polling Place Administrators to trouble-shoot equipment.  The Board's success in recruiting and training high-school students owes greatly to a successful partnership with Mikva Challenge, an award-winning not-for-profit organization.

 -- The Board has led the State of Illinois in the consistent and successful lobbying for reforms to safeguard the voting rights of military personnel and civilians stationed overseas.  The Board urged the change that today allows military and other overseas ballots to arrive up to 14 days after the Election and still be counted.  The Board currently wants state and federal lawmakers to allow all overseas voters, particularly those in the military, to have the option of submitting voted ballots through a secured fax.

 -- For the recent Nov. 2, 2010 Election, the Chicago Board delivered 7,200 ballots to military and overseas civilians more than two weeks before the federal deadline.  As a result, several hundred military and overseas civilians were the very first Chicagoans to vote in this election - starting in early September, a month before the launch of Early Voting locally.

 -- The Board made one of the more successful transitions to optical scan and touch screen balloting systems.  Although the first election with the new equipment revealed challenges in the transmission of results, the successful use of receiving stations and polling place administrators resolved those issues - and became the models for other jurisdictions in addressing these same matters.  Throughout this transition with the new equipment, and in elections conducted since then, the accuracy of all ballot tabulations has been upheld in all recounts and audits.

 -- In the Feb. 22, 2011 Municipal General Election, the Board set a record for timely reporting of Election Night results with: 75% of precincts reported 35 minutes after polls closed; 86% an hour after polls closed; and 98% three hours after polls closed. The results were available on the Board's web site and shared with the news media, for the first time with real-time ward-by-ward detail.

 -- The Board created a web site that provides voters with greater access to election information, including comprehensive information about each voter's registration status, their polling place, their election districts and even the real-time status of any absentee ballot application.

 -- The Board has consistently championed the cause of multi-lingual voter assistance. The Chicago Election Board was the first election jurisdiction in the United States to launch a fully quad-lingual web site with information in English, Spanish, Chinese and Polish. The Board also offers the "We Speak Your Language" book in every precinct on Election Day, with information for voters in 16 languages.

 -- The Board has led the State of Illinois in participation rates for newer balloting options that include Early Voting, Grace Period Voting and "no-excuse" Absentee Voting (also known as Vote by Mail).

 -- The Board employs a GPS tracking system to help assure the accurate delivery of election supplies to each precinct with the paper ballots and touchscreens programmed specifically for that precinct.

 -- The Board created on-line training programs for Judges of Election and Polling Place Administrators.

 -- The Board was the first agency in the State of Illinois to provide a comprehensive and transparent system for logging and reporting all Election Day calls related to voter questions and concerns and how those problems are addressed.

 -- The Board engineered an automated system to assure the accurate and timely processing of candidate objections, particularly those related to questions about the authenticity of voter signatures on petitions.  Now, the Board's judgment calls are logged in a computer program so that a clear record is available if any challenge goes to Court.

 -- The Board successfully lobbied for a series of Election Calendar reforms in 2010 to assure that candidates and voter-objectors have more time to settle ballot issues in the event that any case is appealed in the courts. Were it not for this change, petition filing would have occurred a month later in mid-December, and objections would not begin to be heard until January.

 -- In the 1970s, the Board was the first agency in the state to utilize Hearing Officers to streamline the evidentiary hearings on candidate objections. This system allows the Board to process hundreds of cases simultaneously while building comprehensive records in the event there is a need for judicial review.

 -- In recognition of the Board's history for accurate and timely processing of candidate objection cases, the General Assembly expanded the Board's role to include oversight of petition objections for all State Legislative and Congressional Districts that span both the City and Suburban Cook County.

 -- To aid in the transparency for all parties involved, the Board was the first agency in the state to create an instructional program on how to navigate the petition objection process and to offer candidates and other participants reference tools like the "Index Of Electoral Board Decisions" sorted by topic and a "Library of Electoral Board Decisions" from 1980 to present.

 -- To help assure the accuracy of petition signature challenges, the Board was the first agency in the state to employ a forensic handwriting expert.

 -- The Chicago Election Board has a proud record of consistently consulting with voters, community groups, watchdog organizations, civic leaders, the news media and political organizations to seek and employ the best practices in election administration and to deliver important information to voters in a timely manner.

 -- Even as new mandates, under federal and state laws, have added to the cost of administering elections, the Board has strived to contain and reduce costs wherever possible. Key areas of cost containment have involved a combination of automation and reductions in staff through natural attrition, reducing full-time staff in recent years from 170 to 130.