MOLINE -- Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney defended her record against criticism from her primary opponent, Glen Evans, at a forum for March 18 election candidates on Tuesday.
Elected in 2010, Ms. Kinney is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Mr. Evans, a minister from Rock Island. The primary winner will face Republican Kim Lazenby in the general election on Nov. 4.
All three candidates spoke at Tuesday's forum at the Western Illinois University Riverfront Campus in Moline. The forum was organized by the the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans and its affiliate, the Rock Island County Chapter of IARA.
Ms. Kinney said she had expanded voting opportunities by adding new locations for early voting, running informational ad campaigns and ending the practice of charging absentee voters for postage. The county's 2012 voter turnout of 71 percent was the highest in Illinois, she said.
Mr. Evans and Ms. Lazenby both said closing many polling places has resulted in long lines on Election Day. The number of Rock Island County polling places has been cut from more than 100 to 38; most of the old polling places were closed before Ms. Kinney took office.
Ms. Kinney said it had been a "gross misuse of county funds" to have so many polling places.
Mr. Evans said there have been "too many issues with the voting process" since Ms. Kinney was elected. He said he wanted to run a clerk's office free from political influence.
Ms. Lazenby, a South Moline Township trustee, is unopposed in the Republican primary for clerk. She said she wanted to increase public accountability in the clerk's office.
About 40 people attended Tuesday's forum, which also featured state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, and his Republican opponent, Jim Wozniak, a Rock Island County Assistant State's Attorney. Both candidates are unopposed in the March 18 primary.
The pair was asked about $4 million awarded by Gov. Pat Quinn to Augustana College for infrastructure projects while state funding for services to the developmentally disabled was cut.
"I do have a problem when you're giving public funds to a private entity," Mr. Wozniak said.
He said many developmentally disabled people were languishing in correctional facilities because of backlogs in the mental system.
Rep. Smiddy said he understood those concerns but said the money given to Augustana was from a state infrastructure program and could not be used for other purposes. Ensuring money is spent on the programs it's appropriated for is crucial, he said, to stop governors from taking money out of funds to use on different purposes.
He said that practice, prevalent under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, fueled the state's fiscal problems.