State election board looking into McHenry County primary problems

The Illinois State Board of Elections at the behest of a state lawmaker is looking into the problems that plagued Tuesday’s primary.

State Rep. David McSweeney asked board Chairman Charles Scholz in a Thursday evening email for a close look at how the McHenry County Clerk’s Office handled the election.

“It’s important that the public has full confidence in the integrity of the election process. It’s also essential that training is improved to make sure that this never happens again,” said McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills.

Candidates, elected officials and voters have been demanding answers after an election day that they allege was plagued with issues from top to bottom. It was not until Thursday evening – almost 48 hours after polls closed and about the same time that McSweeney emailed his request – that all but late-mail ballots were tallied and some close races for state and local offices were decided.

Election board spokesman Jim Tenuto clarified that the agency has no subpoena power. What it can do, he said, is make inquiries, gather information and assist by making helpful recommendations.

“We don’t have authority to [investigate], but we would be glad to assist if anyone has concerns,” Tenuto said Friday morning.

An email to McSweeney from board General Counsel Ken Menzel stated that the agency already has begun to gather information and reach out to County Clerk Mary McClellan’s office.

“It will probably take some time to fully piece through exactly what happened,” Menzel wrote.

Problems started shortly after polls opened at 6 a.m. when some precincts turned away voters because the electronic poll books used to verify voter registration malfunctioned. McClellan got an emergency court order to keep the polls open another 90 minutes.

However, many precincts complained that they did not get informed of this, and that repeated attempts to contact McClellan's office failed – at least two precincts closed at 7 p.m. instead of 8:30 p.m. Precinct workers and judges complained of malfunctioning equipment, and voters complained that they were turned away, or had incomplete ballots.

McClellan in a Wednesday news release defended the integrity of the results and said that certain steps already are being taken to improve the process. She welcomed any review of her processes or Tuesday's events by the state election board.

McSweeney said he was more than happy to take her up on it, calling what happened “totally unacceptable.”

Whatever help the county receives is welcome, local leaders of both political parties said. McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandra Fay Salgado said the need for an outside look is not a “witch hunt,” but a need to make sure future elections run smoothly.

“Whatever comes out of this investigation, between [McClellan’s] office and the County Board, we can put things in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We want to be the best of the best in McHenry County, and in this case, we got an F,” Salgado said.

Democratic Party of McHenry County Chairman Michael Bissett also welcomed an examination by the state election board. He said the party several weeks before the primary had warned the Attorney General’s Office of potential problems such as lack of communication and training issues.

“We saw this coming a mile away,” Bissett said.