Bruce Clark

Bruce Clark recently retired as the Kankakee County clerk, but not before he earned the distinction of being the longest- serving county clerk in Illinois.

For nearly a third of a century, Bruce Clark has been the person in charge of counting the Kankakee County vote.

And, at the time of his retirement at the end of 2017, he was both the longest-serving county clerk in Illinois and the dean of elected countywide officials in Kankakee County.

Clark also has made repeated trips overseas, observing, monitoring and reporting on elections from England, Bulgaria and a host of countries, such as Kyrgyzstan, that the average American would have trouble finding on a map.

Clark, 63, has been named the Lifetime Achievement Award winner for community service as part of the Daily Journal Citizen of the Year awards.

What's been the biggest change during Clark's long tenure in office?

"When I started, the election code was 84 pages," he said. "Now, it is 400."

Clark notes that a raft of changes, from same-day registration to early voting, have made it easier to vote, but have not resulted in more people actually going to the polls.

"You have to keep up with the new technology," he said. "You have to keep up with automatic registration. You have to answer questions correctly. You have to train election judges. You have to have transparency."

None of those, he said, are bad things. But the key toward actually getting more people to vote, he said, lies along the lines of getting people involved.

"People have fought and died for our right to vote," Clark said. "It really is an individual responsibility. It is what our country is based on."

Clark said the negative campaigning so prevalent today, filling your mailbox and television with attack ads, turns people off. He also makes the point that the elections people ought to be more concerned about are their local elections, where turnout is low and a handful of votes can change the result.

"In Virginia, they just had an election that was decided by the flip of a coin because it was tied," he noted.

Local graduate makes good

A graduate of Westview High School when Kankakee had two high schools, Clark majored in political science at the University of Kentucky. He said his father, the late Archie Clark, taught him the good lessons of patience and hard work.

He got involved in local politics at the suggestion of then-Kankakee Mayor Tom Ryan. He went on to have a lot of good mentors and meet notable folks. Longtime county elected officials Al Keller and Dick Winkle were role models. Clark attended a conference at the University of Kentucky with Gerald Ford and monitored an election with Jimmy Carter.

Married to Chris, he is the father of a son and two daughters.

He is past president of the Illinois Association of County Clerks, was County Clerk of the Year in the state in 2015 and County Official of the Year in Illinois that same year.

His community service includes being past president of Kiwanis and serving on the boards of the Helen Wheeler Center, the United Way, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army and the St. Paul's Lutheran School Board. He also was chair of the church building fund at St. Paul's.

Clark said democracies have increased around the world. What he remembers the most about his overseas tours are the many election officials who genuinely wanted to do a good job. He would see officials counting ballots by hand at 2 or 3 in the morning.

The list of countries where Clark has observed elections includes: Kyrgyzstan, October 2017; Macedonia, December 2016; Belarus, October 2015; Bulgaria, May 2013; Afghanistan, September and October 2009; Azerbaijan, November 2005; Kosovo, November 2001; Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 1997; Liverpool, 1997; and Dominican Republic, May and July 1996.

The county clerk's office also includes some other duties. They process passports; issue and log marriage, birth and death certificates; and hold on to a host of unusual historical records, including the cattle brands once used here.

But it is monitoring the vote that holds the most public attention. With more elected governments than any other state, Illinoisans vote regularly — twice per year every year.

So, what will Clark do March 20, when he will have his first Election Night off in more than 30 years?

"Well, there's one thing I will be doing," he said. "I'll be voting."

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