Chicago ballot


Clarification: This focuses on the Cook County Clerk of the Courts.

The eyes of the world are still on Rahm Emanuel, but with less than a week until the March 20 elections, it's time to start gearing up for your vote.

* Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky give a good broad lay of the land:

Aside from the Republican presidential candidates fighting to return us to 1955, no other high-profile races are on the ballot—no U.S. senator, no governor, no attorney general.

Incumbent state's attorney Anita Alvarez is running for reelection, but she's unopposed, and many of the candidates in the most contested legislative races can be distinguished only by who's backing them.

So really this election is an opportunity for the area's most powerful politicians—the big boys and girls—to see who has the longest, um, tentacles.

* Of these low-profile races, the one that seems to be generating the most heat is the race for Cook County Clerk [of the Courts], the boring but important position that keeps the courts' massive engine of paper running. Today, Crain's Greg Hinz looks at incumbent clerk Dorothy Brown's attempt to introduce e-filing and thus bring her office into the late 20th-early 21st century:

Everyone — and I mean everyone — in the law business seems to want e-filing, because it promises to drastically reduce costs and make it much easier for lawyers to do their work without having to trot over to the Daley Center.

But the Illinois Supreme Court and its administrative office have been slow to act, both out of privacy concerns and the sheer complexity of shoehorning the system into 102 counties divided among 23 circuits.

Right now a only a tiny percentage of case filings are processed electronically, and those at a cost of $4.95 per document—which, as Mick Dumke explains, is unusual for most jurisdictions. A piece from the Chicago News Co-op sheds some light on why the processing fee is paid by the filer:

Brown said that in issuing a request for qualifications, her office sought a company that would provide electronic filing services to the county at no cost to the county. That model shifts the costs of electronic filing to the users of the system, whereas in other models, the clerk of the circuit court pays the vendor in order to allow users free access to electronic filing.

But the costs can go well beyond just filing documents, as Dumke found when he attempted to access court records for a piece; after months of waiting, he was presented with a fee nearing $1500 for nine hours of research and programming before he could get the information. The Chicago Reporter is holding a fundraiser for the $7,000 it will cost them for court data needed to research an upcoming story.

I've encountered this information-services vendor model—inexpensive or even free upfront, with substantial extra charges for anything beyond basic services—at various points in my private sector career (and I've certainly racked up credit card bills on the federal government's irritating PACER system, which just raised its fees) but implementing it for public information adds another layer of complexity, both logistical and ethical. In the near future public-private partnerships will be a key issue for City Hall with the advent of the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, but more quietly it's become a key issue in next week's election.


Photograph: juggernautco (CC by 2.0)