February 01, 2023
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McHenry County Board members grill Tirio over April's election errors

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio

McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio on Tuesday came under fire from multiple McHenry County Board members over what is being done to prevent potential election errors.

The problems came to light after April's consolidated election, when a ballot error was discovered that could have jeopardized the passage of a referendum for the Marengo Fire Protection District. The error prompted the Illinois State Board of Elections to advise the clerk's office how to prevent election problems.

Board member Michael Vijuk began the questioning toward the end of Tuesday’s County Board meeting when he asked Tirio what came of the discussions with the state board.

Tirio said he had a conference call with Ken Menzel, general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, a few days after the election, during which they reviewed opportunities for improvement.

Tirio told the Northwest Herald on Wednesday that there weren’t any systematic changes discussed, but the Board of Elections identified an outdated voter registration system that may be a problem. A request for proposal for an updated voter registration system is under consideration, Tirio told the County Board.

Tirio had said he is considering implementing a double-entry method, which is used in the county recorder’s office, to verify accurate information in future elections.

The Marengo Fire Protection District and Marengo Rescue Squad District both had referendums on April ballots that would result in higher property taxes for the purpose of funding benefit options for firefighters and paramedics. However, the language from the rescue squad’s referendum appeared on the ballot for both districts’ requests.

Tirio had said there were some last-minute changes to the ballot, but that was not an excuse for the printing of incorrect information. The correct language ultimately was posted at the affected polling places during the election, and both referendums passed. However, the decision could have been challenged if one could prove that the incorrect information influenced the outcome of the election.

The Board of Elections was called to advise the clerk's office after the April primary – and previously had been contacted after the 2016 primary after numerous issues prevented results from being posted until almost 48 hours after the polls closed. Mary McClellan was clerk at the time of the 2016 primary election.

Vijuk on Tuesday also brought up the division of election precincts, which the County Board would be allowed to do during its June meeting under state statute so each election district contains close to 500 voters.

Tirio responded that the redistribution of precincts may be necessary in certain circumstances, but it could create greater confusion in the county.

District 5 board member Paula Yensen said that in some of her precincts people were waiting hours to cast their votes, which she considered a form of voter suppression.

Tirio said that is inexcusable and that staff are using various tools to determine chokepoints where there are too many voters within a particular polling place. He added that part of the problem is the efficiency of certain parts of the voting process, any of which can create a queue of voters.

“Not only is it a matter of people, but it’s a matter of steps and availability of access to those steps,” Tirio said.

District 5 board member Carlos Acosta, who was elected to the board after November’s general election, called for a better vote-by-mail process.

Initial 2018 general election results on the clerk’s website had not factored in early voting numbers, which accounted for about 33,000 missing votes. These numbers were added to vote totals two days after the election, bringing Acosta from a losing candidate to the leading candidate in his district’s race.