ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – Illinois election law and the calendar are threatening to make taxpayers say “Bah, humbug” on Christmas Eve.
The combination of an early spring Election Day and legal requirements for candidates wanting their names on the ballot means government offices have to stay open Dec. 24 – and the bureaucrats staffing them will get overtime pay.
“It’s an issue that could be a costly one,” state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, told the Daily Herald. “It’s a big concern because of the cost of keeping these places open, especially places where they’re already cutting costs.”
State law requires the period for political candidates to file nominating petitions begin 113 days before the April 9 municipal elections, and run for eight days – ending at 5 p.m. on Dec. 24 this year.
It’s not a state holiday but it is for many city governments, school districts and park boards whose voters will go to the polls next spring.
There’s legislation in the House to extend future filing periods if they fall during a period that includes Christmas Eve.
But its sponsor, Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said there isn’t time to change the date this year.
The General Assembly returns late this month for its fall session and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is considering alternatives, spokesman Steve Brown said.
“We’re looking at the best, most commonsense way,” he said. “It’s being addressed.”
Spring elections are supposed to occur the first Tuesday in April unless that date conflicts with Passover, which it does in 2013. That altered the filing period.
No one is certain how much it will cost in overtime or other costs to keep the doors open at local offices – and perhaps those of county clerks. Lake County Clerk Willard Helander said she will have staff at work Dec. 24 in case any of the county’s 180 local taxing bodies have questions or problems.
While she expects that most candidates will have their paperwork in by then, Helander said, “I suppose there’s always room for an Ebenezer Scrooge to show up at a quarter-to-five to see who’s open.”
Warrenville Park District Executive Director Diane Dillow and her assistant will delay their yuletide by punching in on Christmas Eve. It’s a holiday for them but they’ll make it up later.
“We have enough work to do that we’ll put in a full day,” Dillow said.
An assistant superintendent at Schaumburg Township Elementary School District 54 is already in the giving spirit, volunteering to take on the task.
“He’s salaried, so we won’t have to pay him overtime and he’s doing it as a gesture not to have his staff have to spend Christmas Eve here,” spokeswoman Terri McHugh said.
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, cautioned the Legislature not to act hastily and “create more unintended consequences.”
“Remember, we’ve created a conflict with one holiday to avoid conflict with another,” Harmon said, “which illustrates just how this is like the butterfly effect.”