Elections are November 3rd, a little over a month and a half away. A lot of ink and screen time has been spent discussing the presidential race, but down ballot races are often under covered by news outlets. It makes sense: fewer people interested, fewer stories about them. That trend ignores the fact that these down-ballot races have the potential to impact your day to day life much more than who specifically represents you in Congress or in the White House.
Champaign County elects a County Board and several administrative positions in county government. This November, we are electing five of these positions: Auditor, Coroner, Recorder of Deeds, Circuit Clerk, and State’s Attorney. Who’s running? What do these positions do? Why should you even care? I want to answer these questions, for readers who haven’t voted before, who aren’t familiar with county government, or who just want a refresher because they haven’t thought much about these races since the last election.
For information about who’s running, the County Clerk’s website has a page describing who is running in every race this election. This list won’t be finalized until the ballot is certified, which should happen around September 17th, according to the County Clerk’s senior election specialist Cory Sutton.
Here’s a description of each office up for election this November.
The County Auditor performs, apropos of the name, audits for the county. The auditor is a one-stop shop for government accountability. They oversee financial audits, publishing the revenues and expenditures for each county office, maintains a public list of all contracts with the county, and takes complaints alleging fraud or abuse in county government. For example, the auditor’s monthly report for July indicates that the State’s Attorney Drug Forfeiture Unit has generated 395% of its budgeted revenues this year. Forfeiture funds are notoriously misused at all levels of government, such as the Champaign Police Department’s use of $7,000 in seized money at places like Hooters, Arby’s, and In-N-Out Burger in 2017 and 2018, according to the MidWest Center for Investigative Reporting.
The current auditor is George Danos, a Democrat. He is running for reelection against Republican Gary Maxwell. Danos is a licensed CPA and has served since 2018 after two failed runs for the position in 2016 and 2012. Maxwell is a retired civil engineer and land surveyor who has previously served on the County Board.
The County Coroner is an interesting office because the coroner is responsible for overseeing all deaths for which a doctor wasn’t present. Did an older relative pass while at home? Did a friend commit suicide? Was there a murder? All of these deaths should be investigated by the coroner. Because of this investigative responsibility, the coroner holds the same powers and authority as the sheriff and actually takes over for the sheriff if the office is vacant. The coroner also authorizes any cremation and issues death certificates.
The current coroner is Duane Northrup, a Republican. He is running for reelection against Chaundra Bishop, a Democrat. Northrup has served since 2004, having been Deputy Coroner in Champaign from 2001 to 2004. Northrup is a graduate of Parkland College with an associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. Bishop holds a master’s degree in health sciences from Western Illinois University and professional experience working in public health with nonprofits and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
Recorder of Deeds
Recorder is an office dedicated to paperwork. According to the office’s website, the office is in charge of “receiving, filing, and maintaining all records related to real property in our county.” The recorder also handles foreign birth certificates, foreign marriage licenses, and military discharge paperwork. Most counties in Illinois don’t have a recorder position, instead relying on the county clerk to handle what our recorder does. This is relevant because Mike Ingram, a Democratic county board member, is running for this position with the intention to eliminate it. Ingram’s campaign claims this would save the county more than $100,000.
The current recorder is Mark Sheldon, a Republican. Sheldon was the county clerk from 1997 to 2011, worked as political consultant and staffer for a few years, and was elected as recorder in 2016. Ingram is also a professional musician and promoter.
The Champaign County Circuit Clerk is responsible for managing the paperwork of the circuit court in Champaign county. This means that this person is responsible for keeping records of people’s arrests, trials, and other court paperwork. They handle the process of expunging and sealing criminal records, paying traffic tickets, and accessing court files. While this seems mundane, it is the work of the circuit clerk to keep the criminal and civil justice systems efficient.
The current circuit clerk is Katie Blakeman, a Republican. She is running for reelection against Democrat Susan McGrath. Blakeman has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Augustana College, and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from University of Illinois and has served as circuit clerk since 2012. McGrath holds a law degree from the University of Illinois, served on the county board for 16 years in the 80’s and 90’s, and most recently worked in the State’s Attorney’s office.
Anyone who has watched Law & Order can imagine what the state’s attorney does. In Illinois the state’s attorney serves as the prosecutor in criminal cases. In Champaign, the state’s attorney also serves as an administrator, overseeing 46 staff positions and a budget of more than $2,000,000, according to county documents.
According to the county clerk’s website, Julia Rietz is running unopposed. Rietz is a Democrat. Champaign County Republicans have not fielded an opponent.
Rietz has served as State’s Attorney since 2004 and is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, where she currently teaches a course on trial advocacy.
As we approach election day, keep checking back with Smile Politely for more information about who is running and how the elections are shaping up. If you want to learn more about these positions, each office has a page on the county website detailing their job descriptions.