The Observer
News from the League of Women Voters
of Cook County

January 2021

State Legislators Pass Criminal Justice Reforms Including Elimination of Cash Bail

After working since 2014 to eliminate cash bail, the Cook County League’s Criminal Justice Interest Group is celebrating a victory!

State legislators voted on January 13 in Springfield to pass the Pretrial Fairness Act. The Act aims to prevent people facing criminal charges – who are still presumed innocent – from being jailed because they can’t afford bail. With this action, Illinois became the first state in the nation to put an end to money bond. The bill, part of sweeping changes to the state criminal justice system, will be sent to the Governor (who has indicated his support) for his signature. Once signed, the law will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

The impetus behind the formation of the League's Criminal Justice Interest Group was a report issued by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, which outlined the many inequities in the pretrial phase of the Illinois criminal justice system.

“Here in Cook County we have the largest single-site jail in the nation,” said Jan Goldberg, co-Chair with Karin Hribar of the interest group. “At the time, over half of the detainees were held simply because they could not afford cash bail. Most of them were in jail for nonviolent offenses with small bail amounts, but they still could not afford it.”

Group members interviewed dozens of public defenders, prosecutors, judges, elected officials and academics, and wrote a report on Pretrial Systems, which outlined 11 recommendations. Its number one recommendation was the elimination of cash bail.

In an updated report two years later, the League continued to press for the elimination of
bail. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans instituted bail reform in 2017 which helped reduce the number of detainees, but judges could not eliminate bail without action in Springfield.

Today, judges receive a report to determine flight risk and danger to the community. With the passage of the bill, they will still receive that information but won't assign a monetary value to it. “No money needs to be exchanged,” Jan said. “Money just underscores the inequities in the criminal justice system.”

Cook County Election Follow-up

LWVCC’s Voter Service Committee met with members of the Cook County Clerk’s election division, including Deputy Clerk for Elections Ed Michalowski, on December 15 to congratulate them on a successful election and raise questions about some aspects of the process.

New procedures, such as having drop boxes for vote-by-mail ballots, were enacted by law for the November election only. During the recent lame-duck session of the Illinois Legislature, a bill to re-authorize the use of ballot drop boxes failed to pass. The new session just started last week, so voters can expect a bill to be introduced. But will it pass in time for the Consolidated Elections on April 6?

Responses from the County Clerk's office about the election law were shared with the LWVIL Voter Service Chairs, and the responses to all the questions were shared with the Presidents and Voter Service Chairs of the 13 local Leagues in Cook County. 


  • The Clerk’s office hopes that any new law will allow only one form of the paper application for a Vote-By-Mail ballot – that of the Election Authority – and they also favor a re-authorization of the use of drop boxes.

  • To improve the tracking of Vote-By-Mail ballots, the Clerk’s office will issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) to hire a new company in the future that can handle the tracking.

To read the complete summary, contact your local League’s Voter Service Chair.

Municipal Elections Schedule

Key dates for the 2021 Consolidated Municipal Elections in Suburban Cook County
for the February 23 Primary Election and the April 6 General Election are located here.

Register to vote. You can register online or in person, or you can download a registration form and register through the mail. For a Suburban Cook County registration form, click here.

The City of Chicago does not have any municipal elections in 2021.

LWVCC's Budget & Structure Interest Group's Study Leads to Elimination of County Recorder of Deeds Office

League members know we can’t let setbacks get us down. We just work harder. Look no further than the amount of time it took for women to get the right to vote (72 years). 

It took “only” 9 years for the elimination of the elected position of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds and transfer that office’s duties to the Cook County Clerk which was finalized in December 2020. And the LWVCC was involved all along the way.

The LWVCC supported the November 2016 referendum which proposed the transfer of the duties to the Clerk based on a report by the LWVCC’s Budget & Structure Interest Group. The study found that the elimination of the separate Recorder’s office should save the County at least $1 million annually. In the final plan, estimated savings exceed $1 million in 2021 and $6.7 million over the next 3 years.

Budget & Structure Chair Pris Mims has compiled a recap of the Interest Group’s impressive journey and successes from 2011 to 2020. She notes that the group will continue to monitor what actually happens, and you can expect the LWVCC to comment, as appropriate.

In the meantime: a reminder that local Leagues in Cook County can utilize the LWVCC’s “Appointed vs. Elected” position for applicable issues at the local level. Find it on page 7 of our “Where We Stand” document.

Excerpts from Recent ObserverReports

  • At the Cook County Board meeting on December 17, 2020, a request from the Sheriff’s Office and the Cook County Court was made to expand the existing approved contract with the GPS equipment provider for the electronic monitoring of those being detained at Cook County Jail. The increase was needed due to the unforeseen significant increase in electronic monitoring (EM) participants in 2020. The Sheriff’s Office is transitioning current EM participants from radio frequency equipment to GPS. Passed 14 yes 3 no

  • At the December 16 meeting of the Cook County Board’s Zoning and Building Committee, a vote on an updated proposal the Tenant and Landlord Ordinance was delayed until the January meeting so that Board members and the public would have time to review it. The ordinance would give more protections to tenants and landlords in suburban Cook County.

For additional information and more Observer reports, click here.

NOTE: LWVCC Observers attend governmental meetings (virtually, for the foreseeable future) and monitor issues being discussed with a focus on the process and procedures that help ensure a productive meeting. They write short reports after each meeting which are posted at and shared on LWVCC’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

For more about observing or to volunteer, contact Diane Edmundson (coordinator/scheduler for MWRD and CCH) at or Carolyn Cosentino (coordinator/scheduler for CCBC and the Forest Preserve board) at    

League of Women Voters U.S. issued a statement calling for the immediate removal of President Donald Trump from public office. You can read the statement here:

Scholarship Established in Memory of Syvia Tillman
Syvia Tillman (March 13, 1931 – November 3, 2020) was known for the scrumptious desserts she brought to holiday parties. But what she’ll be remembered for the most is her dedicated leadership in the League of Women Voters.

After retiring from a successful career in state government, Syvia joined the Homewood-Flossmoor Area League in 2000 and immediately became active. She served as Local League president from 2002-2003, 2008-2009, and as co-president (with Erin Roeper) from 2009-2011, and she chaired numerous committees. She also became a board member of the Illinois League and was active in other community organizations.
In her memory, the Homewood-Flossmoor league has established a program to grant five students who currently attend South Suburban high schools $1,000 each. The college-bound individuals must show that they have engaged in community service/civic engagement and are majoring in Political Science (Syvia was a political science major) at an accredited Community College or four-year college or university, in which they have already been accepted. The scholarships will be awarded in mid-June 2021. 

The League of Women Voters of Cook County made a donation to the fund. Individual League members who want to make their own donation, should send a check or money order made payable to “LWV H-F Scholarship Fund” (in the check's memo section, write “In memory of Syvia Scholarship Fund.”) Mail to: League of Women Voters of Homewood-Flossmoor Area, P.O. Box 801, Flossmoor, IL 60422. For more information, contact Barbara Hayes: 708-699-9513
County Department Helps Facilitate Family Services and Adoptions

In adoption and high conflict cases, where parents are unable to reach an agreement after using mediation and other efforts, the Cook County Department of Adoption and Family Support Services (DAFSS) is court appointed to complete a home-based social investigation.

Once a court order is submitted to DAFSS, the department schedules appointments within two weeks of receiving the order. The investigations include a walk-through of the home, observations of parent-child interactions, and interviews with all residents, including children. In adoption cases, a telephone intake and additional home visits may be required.

The department serves families located within the geographic boundaries of Cook County, including Chicago. A final report, which is given to the court and relevant parties, may address issues like parenting time, parental responsibility, family support services, and in the case of adoptions, the best interests of the child. For a free, downloadable brochure, click here.
DAFSS is one of several departments of the Cook County Bureau of Administration, which develops and manages programs that enable the County to better serve its residents. 

Celebrating 100 Years

First Woman Elected to Cook County Board

As we conclude a year of celebrating the centennials of the 19th Amendment and the founding of the League of Women Voters, we pay tribute to the first woman elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, who also happened to be an LWV member. She was Annie Sargent Bemis, referred to as Mrs. E. W. Bemis in the newspaper photo at right.

At the time of her election on November 7, 1922, Mrs. Bemis told the Chicago Tribune: “I intend to work especially hard on the problems that a woman is particularly suited to understand. But I do not intend to slight the other duties of a commissioner. No woman should hold office just because she is a woman.”
LWVCC board member Pris Mims obtained the information from Matthew DeLeon, Secretary to the Cook County Board and the official County Historian. Mrs. Bemis was appointed by the Board to fill a vacancy at a February 1922 meeting – but not before several male Board attempted to delay a vote for a legal opinion.

The September 8 Board minutes reflect that Mrs. Bemis tendered her resignation as a Board member. Why? She had previously won the Democratic nomination for the post in the April primary and was on the November ballot. Secretary DeLeon found a thank-you letter to the Board from Mrs. Bemis’s daughter which indicates she was going to be married sometime in September or October. Did Mrs. Bemis resign to oversee the wedding with the hope she
would still be elected in November?

According to an article in the December 1922 LWVIL League Bulletin, Mrs. Bemis was introduced at an LWVIL luncheon as the first woman elected a Commissioner of the Cook County Board, thereby providing further verification that she was indeed the first.
Dec.1922 issue, p. 8, found in Dec.1922 issue, p. 8, found here:
Upcoming Events

Tuesday, January 19, 2 p.m.

“Virtual Tour of the Sanitary District”
Presented by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District

Travel back in time to early Chicago to witness how Cook County developed and modernized the sanitary district. Go inside the Deep Tunnel, and learn more about what happens after the flush! To register, click here.

Tuesday, February 2, 7:00pm – 8:30pm

“Our Common Purpose: Reinventing Democracy”
Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area

Andrea Martonffy, a resident of LaGrange who taught history and humanities for many
years, will present information gathered from years of study by a bipartisan commission of leading thinkers at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS). The report, "Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century," makes concrete recommendations for how to rebuild a culture of commitment to American constitutional democracy. The event is free and open to the public. Register in advance by clicking here.
For more information, email the League at


2020-2021 Cook County League Board Members 

OFFICERS: President: Cynthia Schilsky, LaGrange Area; Vice-presidents: Jan Goldberg, LaGrange Area; Karin Hribar Arlington Heights; Secretary: Betty Hayford, Evanston; Treasurer: Nancy Clark, Oak Park/River Forest.

Board members: Carolyn Cosentino, Homewood/Flossmoor; Laura Davis, Palatine; Diane Edmundson, Park Ridge; Kathi Graffam, LaGrange Area; Peggy Kell, Oak Park/River Forest; Nancy Marcus, Winnetka/Northfield/Kenilworth; Priscilla Mims, Chicago; Chris Ruys, Chicago.

Local League Representatives (LLR): Mary Anne Benden, Arlington Heights; Ann Bolan, Oak-Park/River Forest; Georgia Gebhardt, Wilmette; Kim Inman, Palatine; Melanie King, Homewood/Flossmoor; Michele Niccolai, LaGrange Area; Dianne Schmidt, Glenview/Glencoe; Chris Slokwik, Palos/Orland.

Editor: Chris Ruys
Webmaster: Peggy Kell
League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, political organization whose mission is to encourage informed and active participation in government; to increase understanding of major policy issues, and to influence public policy through education and advocacy. Membership in the League is open to anyone regardless of gender, race, or ethnic group.

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