Today, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the provision in House Bill 2418, now Public Act 98-0115, that removes the authority of the county clerk to administer elections and establishes an elections commission without a voter referendum - in Lake County only.
The newly enacted law requires the chief judge to appoint the commission within 30 days. The County is seeking a preliminary injunction from the court to prevent the formation of the commission, and to stop the commission from implementing and administering elections in Lake County.
The Illinois Constitution (Article IV, Section 13) prohibits the general assembly from passing "special legislation" when general laws can be made applicable. In this case, certain provisions of Public Act 98-0115 single out Lake County by applying only to "[a]ny county with a population of more than 700,000 as of the 2010 federal decennial census...that borders another state and borders no more than two other Illinois counties..." Lake County is and will always be the only county in the state that has more than 700,000 as of the 2010 census and that also borders another state and no more than two other Illinois counties.
Currently, other counties can establish an elections commission by voter referendum or by ordinance of the elected county board. This challenged legislation specifically singles out Lake County and eliminates voters' right to choose who administers elections.
Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said, "By sneaking one paragraph in during the last days of session, Springfield chose to eliminate the voice of Lake County voters. What they did was just plain wrong and this lawsuit attempts to correct what we feel is an unconstitutional law."
When this legislation was first introduced, the Lake County Board overwhelmingly approved a resolution officially opposing the legislation. The board reacted swiftly, attempting to work with local legislators to prevent it from moving forward. Only one of Lake County's five state senators and four of nine state representatives supported it. The board then urged the governor to veto the language and preserve voters' rights by putting a referendum in place. Ultimately, the governor signed the bill.
"This lawsuit is our last resort to overturn this law. It's a decision that we take very seriously. We tried pursuing other options first, but to no avail." Lawlor added.
The state's attorney represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are Lake County and Chairman Aaron Lawlor. State's Attorney Nerheim noted: "The Illinois Constitution's special legislation prohibition requires that legislative classifications based on population or geographic differences be rationally related to serve a legitimate purpose or ends. It is our contention that there is no rational basis to treat Lake County differently than other counties, where county elections commissions are only established based on the will of the county voters, either through a direct voter referendum or indirectly through a county board ordinance."
The defendants in the lawsuit include: Chief Judge Fred Foreman, who under the legislation is charged with appointing the elections commission, and the Illinois State Board of Elections, which under Illinois law is the state agency that has general oversight and administration of elections.
*Media note: A video of the press conference will be available on Dropbox shortly. We will send out the link as soon as it's available.