Non-Illinoisans, what does your Secretary of State do?
In some instances, state Secretaries of State made national news in the last election, due to the choices they made in modifying state election law or its implementation, due to COVID, and their validation of election results, most notably Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who even now shows up in news reports.
Which means that a non-Illinoisan might not think twice about this promise from Democratic candidate for the Illinois Secretary of State, Alexi Giannoulias (image posted at bottom in case of tweet deletion):
Illinois is not nearly as blue a state as people think. It’s absolutely critical we keep the Secretary of State’s office blue to protect our elections. That is why I’m running to keep IL blue. Can you RT this & follow this account to help keep Illinois securely Democratic? 🙏 🚀
— Alexi Giannoulias (@Giannoulias) July 25, 2021
And his website contains similar promises:
He supports Defending Voter Rights: “We must ensure access to registering to vote and individual rights at the ballot box are protected to prevent disenfranchisement.”
He advocates for Safeguarding Against Financial Fraud: “With the economic downturn making our most vulnerable citizens susceptible to fraud, deception and unfair practices, we must protect financial well-being of Illinois residents against those who prey on them.”
He promises he will go about Strengthening Ethics Laws: “With recent corruption scandals plaguing Illinois, we must toughen state ethics laws and reform the system to curb abuse.”
But in Illinois, the Secretary of State’s office is primarily Illinois’ equivalent to the Department of Motor Vehicles elsewhere, administering driving tests and issuing driving licenses and vehicle registrations, as well as secondary duties in administering the registration of corporations, lobbyists, and notaries, as well as overseeing the state archive and the state library. Were he to be elected, he would have nothing to do with voting (except for the minor element of “motor voter” registration), financial fraud (that’s the Attorney General), or ethics (that’s an office in the executive branch with no particular head other than the governor).
Giannoulias also promises he will “protect our privacy of Illinois residents and safeguard their data, photos and personal information from those who seek to abuse it,” and, sure, to the extent that the Secretary of State’s office holds data on Illinois drivers, there’s a privacy element, but this is small potatoes.
And he promises he will go about “making our roads safer” which sounds fine as far as it goes but then continues that he will do this by “strengthening safety guidelines for motorists and protecting the environment,” which seem to have a lot more to do with legislation than the administrative job of the Secretary of State.
Finally, he claims he will go about Modernizing Services: “COVID-19 has changed how all offices need to operate and deliver services – with the health and safety of the public a top priority – to improve the customer experience.” But this is trite and meaningless, all the more so since on his homepage he praises the outgoing Secretary of State, Jesse White’s “outstanding service.” And, to be honest, the Secretary of State took its time about implementing an appointment system for drivers’ license renewals, but now they have and it appears to work smoothly. And other than this, the biggest “customer experience” problem were the delays caused by the extreme length of time the office was closed, both in spring of 2020 and again over Christmastime — delays which may have been fine for many of those whose expiration dates were simply extended but caused significant difficulties for those seeking licenses for the first time. But his emphasis on “health and safety” suggests this is not a concern of his.
What it comes down to is this:
Alexi Giannoulias is not running for the office of Secretary of State.
What does he really want?
He is running to obtain the status of “next-in-line for governor.”
Here’s the Chicago Sun Times, from this past June:
Nevertheless, presiding over that state office is one of the most coveted prizes in Illinois politics.
“Next to being governor, that’s the biggest political office statewide,” said former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. . . .
Political insiders say former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is leading the pack, racking up crucial endorsements and building the most fully stocked political war chest. He is closely followed by Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, who has won her own share of endorsements, but in the money contest has so far been outraised by Giannoulias more than five-to-one. . . .
One of the allures of the office is its potential to serve as a political stepping stone.
Edgar, a former Illinois secretary of state who parlayed his tenure into a successful gubernatorial bid, said the current crop of candidates may be looking to do the same, since the office offers plenty of the tools to do so, from jobs to fill to publicity to take advantage of.
“You also have respect throughout the state. Your name — next to the governor’s — is the most visible name in state government, because you’re on everybody’s driver’s license,” Edgar said. “There’s a lot of political advantages.”
Now, to be sure, Giannoulias isn’t the only one doing this. Valencia’s website likewise claims new responsibilities for the Secretary of State, usurping the powers of the Illinois State Board of Elections, by calling for an “Illinois Voting Access Commission,” which would “bring together diverse stakeholders from across the State to identify ways to expand and protect voter registration, voting and vote counting. Our stakeholders will include the Illinois State Board of Elections, members of the Illinois General Assembly, County Clerks, community and business leaders, universities and foundations.” This commission would evaluate expanding Vote By Mail, Automatic Voter Registration, transportation to the polls, election judge recruitment, and would update voting technology — again, nothing that has anything to do with the roles of the Secretary of State. She would also create an “Illinois Civics Corps” — which would “give Illinois college students a stipend to register and educate their communities on how to become civically engaged.”
Again, none of this has anything to do with the responsibilities of the Illinois Secretary of State. (And, for that matter, none of the changes in election law in other states has anything to do with Illinois’ own election laws, and in fact, Illinois has been busy legislating expanded ease of voting, including expansion of vote by mail, expanded voting hours, and more.) Valencia is similarly trying to benefit from voters’ lack of knowledge, and their gullibility in believing that voting access is at risk and their association of state Secretaries of State with voting administration.
Now, in fairness, the three remaining candidates, Mike Hastings, David Moore, and Pat Dowell, make no such promises, touting instead their records of public service and business/oversight experience. But they are, as the Sun Times article states, the also-rans. And one of Giannoulias or Valencia will undoubtedly win, with Gianoulias’s ability to plaster the airwaves a definite advantage. Whether the winner then remembers that their job is limited to properly administering the Secretary of State’s office, or uses their platform to grandstand, or even abandons the public service daily grind in ways that cause hardship to Illinoisans just trying to go about their daily life, remains to be seen, but in any case this election will serve as a reminder that Illinois is fundamentally broken.