Chief Judge Tim Evans Announces New Election Commissioner

CHICAGO (January 4, 2016) – Jonathan T. Swain will join the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, under an appointment approved today by a majority of Circuit Judges of Cook County.

Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans submitted Swain as the nominee to the judges for the position after interviewing seven qualified applicants.

Pictured: Jonathan Swain
Pictured: Jonathan Swain

“Jonathan Swain has the professional experience, judgment and temperament needed to serve as an election commissioner. He possesses both an excellent legal mind to rule on candidate ballot-access disputes and a strong business background to manage our elections.”

 “The Circuit Judges’ appointment also ensures that the three-member board represents a commitment to excellence, the diversity of our city and that the voices of all Chicagoans will be heard. Mr. Swain, who is African-American, will join Marisol Hernandez, who is Hispanic, and William Kresse, who is Caucasian. Our government should always look like the people it serves, especially a body charged with overseeing the most important function of American democracy – the right to vote.”

Swain will fill the seat on the three-member board that was vacated by the resignation of Election Board Commissioner Langdon D. Neal on December 31.

A licensed attorney since 1999, Swain most recently served as chairman of the City of Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals, a quasi-judicial body that rules on zoning variations, special-use permits and appeals of the Chicago Zoning Administrator’s rulings. He managed a monthly case call of between 50 to 60 cases; guided applicants and objectors who lack attorneys through testimony; ruled on objections; and ensured that decisions adhered to the proper legal standards.

He was appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2007 and became chairman in 2010. With his new position on the Board of Election Commissioners, he will no longer serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Swain is the president and principal of Kimbark Beverage Shoppe, a 40-year-old family business where he oversees financial management, human resources management, marketing, merchandising and community relations for the retail beer and wine business.

Swain has a bachelor’s degree from Duke University; a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law; and a master’s of business administration from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Swain said he is looking forward to his new role and recalled a conversation he had as a young man with his mother, who grew up in the South during racial segregation. She told him how he would never miss an opportunity to vote because too many people died for his right to vote.

“It struck me because this isn’t a story in a storybook; this is something she’s well familiar with,” Swain said. “Voting and elections are fundamental to our democracy. It’s the way everyday citizens have the ability to have a voice in how our society is run. I’m passionate about it. As society is growing and changing, it’s important that the process is fair to everybody. I think it’s important that it’s open and accessible and especially to have young people getting involved.”

The other qualified candidates that Chief Judge Evans interviewed were:

  • Robert W. Bertucci, Cook County Circuit Judge
  • Fred Fortier, attorney at Fortier Law Offices and general manager of Galena Development
  • Dick Simpson, political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Thomas E. Soule, attorney
  • Betty Tsamis, attorney at Tsamis Law Firm P.C.
  • Sean Vinck, director of Enterprise IT Transformation and senior legal adviser for the State of Oregon

Under a state statute, the composition of the three-member board is to include one member from each of the state’s two leading political parties. Because the board already had one Democrat and one Republican, the vacancy caused by Neal’s departure was not limited to any political party. Swain is a Democrat.

Under state law, vacancies are filled by the Circuit Court where the Election Board is located. The Cook County Board has set Chicago Board of Election Commissioner salaries at $77,798 annually.

The commissioners manage voter registrations; safeguard the rights of all voters to cast ballots independently in a safe and quiet atmosphere, free of interference or intimidation; and inform voters of all of their balloting options, such as Election Day voting, Early Voting and Vote By Mail.

In addition, the board serves as the quasi-judicial arm of the courts and renders decisions when a voter objects to the nominating petitions of a candidate who wants to be on the Election Day ballot. Such offices include Chicago Mayor, Chicago Alderman, Ward Committeeman, City Treasurer, City Clerk and certain Congressional, Illinois Senate and Illinois House of Representatives Districts that fall partly or entirely in the City of Chicago.  

Commissioners serve three-year terms. But Swain’s term will end on November 30, 2017, when Neal’s three-year term would have concluded. At that time, Swain can seek reappointment to a full three-year term.

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