McHenry County polling locations rely on former election judges after 90 judges resigned because of COVID-19

McHenry County polling locations rely on former election judges after 90 judges resigned

Despite fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19, more than 35,000 voters showed up at polling locations throughout the McHenry Tuesday to cast their ballots for the primary election.

McHenry County residents selected Joe Biden as their Democratic pick for president, with 60% of votes in favor of the former vice president, according to unofficial election results.

About 15% of registered voters went to the polls Tuesday and 23.5% voted overall. More than 54,000 voters took part in the election overall. This year's turnout didn't quite stack up to that of the 2016 presidential primary, which drew in 43% of registered voters throughout the county.

The turnout didn't come as a surprise to McHenry County Recorder and Clerk Joe Tirio, who said concerns about COVID-19 likely discouraged some voters from casting ballots.

"A couple months ago, I was expecting a pretty robust election and then as more and more presidential candidates dropped out you could sort of feel the interest waning, and then with the virus, you know it’s sort of the perfect storm," Tirio said.

Given the circumstances, the day ran relatively smoothly, he added.

"For everything that’s going on in the last couple weeks, [it] went remarkably smoothly and all the credit goes to the committed judges that we have who stopped up in a time when it would be easy not [to] and stay back," Tirio said.

McHenry County polling were up and running Tuesday thanks to the help of former election judges, who stepped in after the county had more than 90 judges resign because of the spread of COVID-19 or the "coronavirus," Tirio said.

"We had 90 judges call off," Tirio wrote in an email statement. "Despite that, all polls were open and open on time."

A few residents volunteered to serve as election judges in place of those who resigned, but Tirio said his team filled most of the gaps by reaching out to judges who served in last year’s election cycle since they had already undergone the required three-hour training.

“For those people, the differences between the two elections is minimal and each site has a training manual available so if they have questions, they can refer to that,” Tirio said.

Following Monday’s news release from Gov. JB Pritzker in which he stated that Election Day in Illinois would not be postponed, Tirio said he put a call in to the governor’s office to express his concern.

“I called the governor’s office and got busy signals, unfortunately, yesterday and called the State Board of Elections as well and shared similar concerns,” he said. “... just to kind of let them know what the level of concern was, what the challenges were, things like losing election judges and that sort of thing.”

He felt obligated to call “to share what’s going on, on the ground, so that they’re aware because they’re sitting in Springfield or Chicago and may not fully understand or appreciate what’s happening out here,” Tirio said.

Tirio said it would not have been within his power to postpone Election Day locally.

Because of concerns of insufficient election judges across the state, the Chicago Board of Elections posted online inviting "healthy and capable voter[s]" to be sworn in as substitute judges.

The Illinois Board of Elections also put out an online notice encouraging residents to vote early or vote by mail, if possible.

The McHenry County Clerk’s Office took measures to minimize the health risks for residents who choose to vote on Election Day, Tirio said.

“We provided some wipes and alcohol swabs and what hand sanitizer we could get our hands on – pun intended,” he said.

To the election judges who showed up to keep the polls open on Election Day, Tirio said he and the rest of the county clerk’s office are very thankful for their support.

“This really is an act of public service,” he said. “It’s not the money that brings those people out, it’s the sense of obligation they have to their community and they should be applauded for their efforts in this really difficult and challenging time.”