Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar » Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough has died (Updated)
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Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough has died (Updated)

Sunday, Apr 7, 2024 - Posted by Rich Miller

* ABC 7

Cook County Clerk and longtime Illinois political figure Karen Yarbrough has died at 73 years old, the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

Yarbrough’s top communications aide confirmed she died Sunday.

Yarbrough had been hospitalized in critical condition with an officially undisclosed illness, the I-Team learned on Tuesday.

Yarbrough was midway through her term as clerk and was the first woman and African American to hold that office.

* Sun-Times

She was also active in Democratic Party politics, working for both the Cook County Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Illinois. She was a Democratic committeeperson representing west suburban Proviso Township for the Cook County party, where she was also the treasurer. She’s a member of the state central committee for the Illinois party.

Yarbrough has said that helping people is what she finds most exciting about elective office and her party positions.

“I think people get energy from other people,” Yarbrough told the Sun-Times in a 2020 interview.

* Tribune

Her most high-profile accomplishments in Springfield included successfully working on legislation to make Illinois the 22nd state to ban indoor smoking in 2008, but she also secured money for basic local projects ranging from repaving a library parking lot to redoing local alleyways and streetscapes.

Yarbrough garnered her biggest accolades for her House sponsorship of the ban on executions in Illinois, culminating in the dramatic passage of the legislation on the second of two votes taken during one of the closing days of a lame-duck session in January 2011.

After the bill fell short by one vote in the first round, Yarbrough brought it back a second time and passed the historic measure. It was the first time a death penalty ban passed the House since executions were reinstated in Illinois in 1977. The proposed ban was heavily criticized by some lawmakers and prosecutors who argued violent criminals could murder multiple victims without fear of being killed themselves.

The measure quickly passed the Senate, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill in a private ceremony in his Capitol office with Yarbrough and then-Sen. Kwame Raoul, now the attorney general, looking on with other supporters.

* Clerk Yarbrough was re-elected in 2022, so the end of her term is more than 28 months from now and that means - unless the party waits three to four months to make an appointment - a special election will be held in November. From Cook County’s replacement ordinance

Sec. 2-142. - Vacancies.

The following provisions shall apply to the following separately elected positions: Assessor, County Clerk, Sheriff, and Treasurer:

    (a) Committee of same political party to appoint. In the event of a vacancy, such vacancy shall be filled to no longer than the end of the unexpired term as dictated by this Section by appointment. The appointment shall be done by the appropriate committeepersons of the political party of which the incumbent was a candidate at the time of the candidate’s election or appointment. The appointee shall also be of the same political party that the incumbent was at the time of election or appointment.

    (b) Composition of committee. In the event of a vacancy, the committee that shall appoint the separately elected shall consist of Cook County committeepersons of the same political party that the incumbent was at the time of election or appointment. In making appointments under this Section, each committeeperson shall be entitled to one vote. A candidate is required to receive the majority of the total number of votes in order to be appointed.

    (c) Written appointment filed with County Clerk. Appointments made under this Section shall be in writing and shall be signed by members of the committeepersons whose total votes are sufficient to make the appointments. Such appointments shall be filed with the County Clerk.

    (d) Duration. An appointment made under this Section shall be for no longer than 28 months to the end of the unexpired term. If more than 28 months of the unexpired term of an elected official remains, a special election shall be held at the next general election to elect a person to serve the unexpired term of the elected official. In the case of a special election, the appointed officer shall serve until the election results are certified and the person elected at the special election is qualified. If 28 months or less of the unexpired term remain, the appointed officer shall serve for the remainder of the term.

Notice there’s no mention of a weighted party vote. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too messy.

So, to be clear, there will very likely be a temporary appointment to fill the position until the November election results are certified, and at some point in the near future the parties will appoint their candidates to the ballot.

This post will be updated.

*** UPDATE *** Early react…


  1. - David Clarkin - Sunday, Apr 7, 24 @ 10:17 pm:

    She was a great lady, full of kindness.

    I was afraid it would come to this when I heard she had been hospitalized and then heard nothing else.

    She will be missed by those who were lucky enough to know her.

  2. - Warehouse worker - Monday, Apr 8, 24 @ 8:53 am:

    RIP Clerk Yarbrough

    Given that the Cook County Democratic party is meeting next week as required by law 29 days after a primary, I would imagine that appointing a replacement Clerk and a nominee (likely the same person) will be added to the agenda

  3. - Warehouse worker - Monday, Apr 8, 24 @ 8:55 am:

    Additionally, I expect Speaker Welch to become the new Proviso Township Committeeperson

  4. - Gravitas - Monday, Apr 8, 24 @ 9:05 am:

    R.I.P. Karen Yarbrough.

    Someone in the Election Department of the Cook County Clerk’s Office is going to have to assume the role of issuing certificates to various nominees and elected party officials within the next few days. The proclamation of the primary election results is due tomorrow.

  5. - Loop Lady - Monday, Apr 8, 24 @ 12:29 pm:

    A very, shall I say complicated legacy to say the least.

    My sympathies to her family and friends.

  6. - state worker - Monday, Apr 8, 24 @ 5:02 pm:

    Karen was a caring and witty public servant, who could not seem to help loving people dearly and seeing the best in (most all of) us. She did indeed get energy from others and had so much energy to give back. I have many stories about how she helped people (me and others) as a state rep, both to solve problems and to strategize. I’ve honestly been so sad all day. (Don’t forget to tell state reps how much you appreciate them while you can.) Sending thoughts, prayers, and blessings to her family. Truly an eclipse of the sun.

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