By Leigh Morris
For the Star-Gazette
An earthquake could not match the shockwaves caused by Michael Kirchner’s decision not to seek an eighth term as Cass County clerk.
The popular public servant will complete 28 years as county clerk when his final term comes to an end in December of 2014.
“This was not an easy decision. It is hard to leave a job I love so much,” Kirchner said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the voters support me. Without the voters of Cass County, I wouldn’t be here.”
Kirchner is quick to give credit to his staff for his success in office. He also said he has “been fortunate to work with really good county officers and boards.”
Throughout his service, Kirchner said he has “strived to be accountable and open.”
As for his decision, he noted that “as you get older it gets harder to keep up. I think it (the decision to to seek another term) was more of an age issue.”
Kirchner has not made any public announcements regarding his decision. In fact, he was reluctant to be interviewed for this story, but relented. He did say that he notified two people he knew would have an interest in seeking the office: Beardstown City Clerk Brian “Petie” Ruch and Shelly Wessel, who is a key member of the Kirchner’s staff. Both have taken out nominating petitions for next spring’s Democratic primary.
Though most voters give little thought to the county clerk’s work, the office has extensive responsibilities. Kirchner and his team are responsible for elections, county budget, appropriations, tax levies, vital records (birth, death, marriages) and property records.
Under his administration, Kirchner has taken his office into the computer age. However, an even bigger challenge has been the task of keeping up with continuing changes in election laws. For example, punch cards have been replaced by scanning machines in every precinct.
This year, Kirchner and his team are busy implementing a new state law that allows 17 year olds to vote in a primary election even if they will not be 18 at the time of the general election and thus ineligible to vote at that time. Kirchner describes this as a “feel good” bill that will cost the county at least $2,000 to implement.
Another challenge is dealing with a mandate regarding undervoting. An undervote occurs when a voter does not vote for a candidate in every office. This often happens when a candidate is unopposed. Voting machines will now kick back such ballots, advising the voter that he/she has undervoted. Voters may either vote for additional candidates or select an override option that allows the machine to accept the ballot.
A Beardstown native, Kirchner and his wife Joanne have three children and one grandchild. A 1970 Beardstown High School graduate, Kirchner has a bachelor’s degree from Quincy University and a master’s degree from Western Illinois University. Prior to his election as county clerk, Kirchner was a job train/work coordinator at the Lawrence Adult Education Center in Springfield.