Sangamon County judge rules local governments can be open on Election Day

Sangamon County judge rules local governments can be open on Election Day

A section of a vote-by-mail bill passed earlier this year established Election Day 2020 as a state holiday. A judge ruled it did not apply to local governments.

A Sangamon County judge ruled that a state mandate to close government offices this Election Day did not apply to local municipalities.

If it stands, the change could cut into the ranks of public union workers Gov. J.B. Pritzker would have counted on to get out the vote for his “fair tax” on Nov. 3.

The Illinois Municipal League filed a lawsuit challenging the law on July 29. Judge Raylene Grischow granted their motion for summary judgment on Oct. 16 in Sangamon County Circuit Court.

The law, part of a sweeping vote by mail expansion in the state, would have subjected Illinois’ governments to added costs amidst dropping revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grischow found the law was ambiguous, referring to both a “state holiday” and a “legal school holiday,” terms not normally interchangeable, and the law specifically refers to schools, universities and community colleges, which are not considered units of local government under the Illinois Constitution.

Grischow concluded that in the context of the entirety of the bill, which focused on providing a safe and effective election, the bill did not mandate closing “all” government offices – “only those associated with the election.” The result is that while schools, colleges and universities are subject to office closures, local governments such as municipalities, including those that are members of the Illinois Municipal League, are not.

The decision could give Illinois municipalities a small reprieve from what amounts to just one more unfunded mandate this Election Day.

State lawmakers did not estimate the cost to municipalities or taxpayers for adding a day off for public workers, continuing a long tradition of avoiding price tags when they place demands on local schools and government units but fail to provide money for those mandates.

Pritzker’s top priority Nov. 3 is a constitutional amendment eliminating Illinois’ flat income tax protection. Government worker unions are among Pritzker’s largest supporters – meaning employees in local governments could have been paid to get out the vote for the governor’s “fair tax” on Election Day.

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