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County clerk’s race resembles numbers game

October 11, 2018

mfrey@daily-journal.com

When current Kankakee County Clerk Dan Hendrickson and challenger Barbara Wells square off at the polls in the Nov. 6 election, numbers — specifically vote totals — will determine who emerges as the winner.

But in a way, the numbers game already is in play. For Hendrickson, the key number is 24. For Wells, the number is one.

“I have had the pleasure of working in the county clerk’s office for 24 years, and I love my job,” Hendrickson said. “By the time this election rolls around, I will have overseen 48 elections.”

Hendrickson’s tenure with the county clerk’s office includes a long stint as deputy clerk, and for the last nine-plus months, as clerk. Hendrickson was appointed to the post after longtime clerk Bruce Clark retired late last year.

Wells would like to keep Hendrickson’s stay as clerk brief, and here’s why.

“I’ll focus on one thing. It’s a one-string banjo. Voter education,” Wells said.

The candidates made the remarks during a political forum Tuesday at the Kankakee Public Library. The Kankakee County Branch of the NAACP sponsored the forum.

Wells expounded upon her simple campaign platform throughout the night by insisting that an uninformed electorate and “rampant” voter apathy are linked.

“Things have been done to make voters feel impotent when they go to the polls,” she said.

At the local level, she cited frequent shifts in the locations of polling places as an example. She also said some people simply don’t know their voter eligibility, citing people who have been released from prison after serving their debt to society as an example.

Hendrickson acknowledged the need for some improvement, citing better Hispanic outreach as an example. But he is proud of the clerk’s office for its overall outreach, which includes mailings regarding early voting options, as well a long tradition for exemplary customer service which began with Clark.

Hendrickson also spoke with pride about the work done to enhance the pool of election judges that work at the various polling places. The county office was one of the first to use high school students older than the age of 18 to serve as judges and won an international award for the effort.

Wells said she was not familiar with the program, which she found curious since she is a longtime member of the Kankakee School District 111 Board of Education.

“You have this program, but I don’t believe it is administered as something our students can do,” she said.

Wells said her election as a Democrat would signal a distinct change since Republicans have led the clerk’s office for several decades. Politics can play a role in the job, she said, again pointing to where polling places are positioned.

Hendrickson dismissed that notion. While now a Republican, he said he was a registered Democrat for 12 years and “when you come into our office you will be treated fairly.”

The debate did include a bit of comic relief. Wells was asked if she would hire Hendrickson as her deputy clerk if elected. She responded by saying it would be difficult to let that type of institutional knowledge walk away.

Hendrickson’s reply drew laughter.

“If Mrs. Wells wins, I would like her to hire me.”

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