BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Add an election that could cost in the millions to the taxpayer tab from Aaron Schock’s fall from grace.
Schock, the one-time young face and rising star in the Republican Party, resigned from Congress amid a scandal in which he allegedly bilked taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursement and flights on charter jets.
Now Illinois voters will have to elect a replacement in U.S. House District 18 for Schock.
Not only is the election — a primary on July 7 and a general election on Sept. 10 — a surprise, it’s the first where counties in Illinois will have to offer voter registration and voting on Election Day in every precinct.
“(Same-day registration) adds to my estimate of $280,000 to hold this election,” McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said. “I didn’t factor in same-day registration.”
Illinois allowed voters last November to register and vote on Election Day, but only at the county courthouse or election office. Now every polling place — 10,000 in all, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections — will have to accept walk-in voters.
“You have an unhappy confluence of events,” State Board of Elections legal counsel Ken Menzel said. “You have a special election, those are always a surprise … And you have the implementation of new legislation.”
Menzel said the board provides some money for local election judges and training, but that won’t cover the hundreds of thousands of dollars larger counties will need to allow same-day voter registration.
“I don’t think I’d be real hopeful for a source of funds becoming available,” Menzel said of pleas from county clerks for state help. “We’re hearing about belt tightening, not expansion.”
The 18th District covers all or part of 19 counties in the middle of the state. Most of the district is farm land, and many of the counties are small with less than 50,000 people. But the 18th District is also ringed by some of Illinois’ larger downstate cities, including Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, Springfield and Quincy.
The costs will hit all counties in the district hard, such as Marshall County and its 12,000 residents.
“We’re a small county, but it’s still going to cost us $75,000 to hold this election,” Marshall County Clerk Melody Weber told Illinois Watchdog.
“I think if (Schock) has campaign money that can be used for reimbursements, that would be the right thing to do,” Weber said, adding she’s not holding out much hope for a check from Schock.
While smaller counties like Marshall may spend less than $100,000 on the special election, larger counties like McLean, Peoria, Sangamon and Adams could see their costs top out near $500,000.
Michael said if the state can’t or won’t pay, and Schock can’t or won’t pay, voters may wait in long lines on Election Day.
“If counties don’t have the money for (same-day registration) we’re just going to let the chips fall where they may,” Michael said.
Illinois had originally scheduled the special election to replace Schock for a June primary and a July general election. That would have shaved some of the costs, because Illinois’ same-day registration does not take effect until July 1.
But the U.S. Department of Justice sued Illinois, and got a consent decree to move the election back, because Illinois’ election mandates conflict with federal election mandates.
Military and overseas voters would not have had enough time to cast ballots under Illinois’ original election schedule.
Benjamin Yount is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.