Over the past few years, McHenry County has been subjected to multiple election errors, including technology failures and incorrect ballots.
To ensure these problems don’t crop up in the 2020 primary and general elections – which are shaping up to have record turnouts – McHenry County officials are looking toward the Illinois Board of Elections for assistance to ensure a smooth and accurate process.
On Monday, McHenry County Board member Michael Vijuk sent a letter to IBOE Executive Director Steve Sandvoss requesting any support and resources the agency could bring to ensure the entire voting process is secure.
“My plea is not one based on a hasty reaction to a comment or two, but to the problems that I have observed as an election judge, McHenry County Board member and citizen of the county,” Vijuk wrote. “The McHenry County Clerk’s Office has had [sobering] problems that may have directly and indirectly deprived the rights of voters in the 2016 election, the 2018 election, and the 2019 consolidated election. My faith has been shaken in the office’s ability to prevail over these deficiencies without your office’s assistance.”
During the 2016 primary election, polling time in McHenry County was extended 90 minutes via an emergency court order requested by former County Clerk Mary McClellan after some polling places turned voters away because the electronic poll books used to verify voters' registration were not working.
It was not until almost 48 hours after polls closed in 2016 that all but late-mail ballots were tallied and some close races for state and local offices were decided.
During the 2018 midterm, the county’s election reporting software showed that 21% of McHenry County’s 116,000 ballots did not include selections for governor or statewide offices.
McClellan later told the IBOE that early voting numbers were not included on the county's website at the time.
By adding these votes, McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta – who had been a losing candidate for the board – unseated incumbent Michael Rein.
In 2019's local consolidated election, the Marengo Fire Protection District and Marengo Rescue Squad District both had referendums that would cause 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.
Vijuk said in his email that he is investigating another issue from the 2019 election where voters in Cary School District 26 were asked to cast a ballot for a nonexistent school board race during the election.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said he contacted the IBOE’s legal counsel, Ken Menzel, after the election so the clerk’s office could be advised on how to prevent future problems. McSweeney had taken similar action following the 2016 primary.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said his father was part of a United Nations delegation that was invited by the nation of Georgia to ensure that its elections would be fair and democratic. However, the Marengo Democrat said he never dreamed that he’d have to ask the same for McHenry County.
Franks and McSweeney called on McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio to make a formal request to the IBOE for assistance.
“We’ve had repeated elections with big problems and the voters are tired of it,” Franks said. “The first election under Mr. Tirio got bungled and that was with less than 10% of voters participating.”
McSweeney said in a statement that it’s his understanding that, under the law, monitors cannot be sent unless a county clerk formally requests them.
Tirio said Tuesday that he would be receptive to state assistance.
“I don’t feel that there is a need, but I welcome any help that the state might offer,” Tirio said.
Tirio said in May that the IBOE had identified an outdated voter registration system that could present problems in future elections. Since then, Tirio said a request for proposal has been submitted and a vendor has been chosen for an updated election management system.
IBOE spokesman Matt Dietrich said that election officials can be present to observe certain processes, such as vote tabulation, but the Illinois Election Code does not grant global authority.
“[State statute] does not give us authority to be called in and oversee or monitor an entire election in a county,” Dietrich said. “We couldn’t go to a jurisdiction and oversee the entire election process.”
However, the IBOE does supervise all of the pre-testing of tabulation equipment and performs a 5% random retesting of results after the election.