As mail-in ballots flip 3rd DeKalb County Board seat, Democrats poised to take majority for first time since 2014

If results hold, Democrats could take 6 of the 12 DeKalb County Board districts, a 14-seat majority

Democrat Christopher Porterfield, (right) DeKalb County Board candidate for District 8, checks election results on his phone Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during an election night watch party at River Heights Golf Course in DeKalb.

DeKALB – If unofficial election results hold for the 24-seat DeKalb County Board race, Democrats are poised to take a six-district majority, flipping the partisan body for the first time since 2014.

Additional outstanding mail-in ballots likely are to be tallied in the coming days, and election results won’t be certified and final for two weeks post Tuesday’s General Election. Democrat voters turned out to take the majority of DeKalb County votes in several federal and state races, too, including JB Pritzker’s successful gubernatorial reelection bid, and U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood’s third-term victory for District 14, results show.

A Democratic bid for the DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder’s Office shows a 780-vote margin as of Wednesday, with Republican Tasha Sims in the lead over Democrat Linh Nguyen so far.

As of Wednesday, Democrats are set to hold a 14-10 seat majority over Republicans on the County Board, set to oust three Republican incumbents after initial mail-in ballot votes were added to the tallies Wednesday morning. County officials confirmed the last time Democrats held a board majority was after the November 2014 general election.

According to the latest election results, Democrats appeared set to take six districts, leaving Republicans with four, while two districts are set to have bipartisan representation.

Three incumbent Republicans – Dianne Leifheit, Bill Cummings and Laurie Emmer – will lose their reelection bids if current results stand. That would flip District 4 (Sycamore and Cortland townships) and District 8 (northeast portion of DeKalb Township) to Democrats.

District 8 could see returning face

In District 8, Democrats Chris Porterfield and incumbent Michelle Pickett defeated Republican incumbents Dianne Leifheit and William “Bill” Cummings, swinging the district to the left, according to unofficial results.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday Porterfield received 1,720 votes and Pickett received 1,557, edging out Cummings and Leifheit with 1,238 and 1,208 votes, respectively.

Porterfield’s not new to the board, however, after a 2015 to 2020 stint, he was ousted by then newcomer Cummings. On Tuesday, it appears he returned the favor. He said he’s excited to get to work with the bipartisan board.

“So what I’m really looking forward to is being able to work together, both Republicans and Democrats, to get things done for the county,” said Porterfield, a retired Northern Illinois University admissions administrator. “I think we can do that.”

Porterfield said his first time on the board helped widen his perspective on DeKalb County’s more rural residents.

“University people are in a bubble, the farmers are in a little bubble, and one of the great things about the county board is I met some farmers and came to understand a little bit more about what their life was like,” Porterfield said.

DeKalb County Democrats went into the election Tuesday with assurances that at least three districts with uncontested races, Districts 6, 7 and 9 would be fully theirs. Republicans could say the same with District 2′s uncontested race.

“The County Board, now we are in the majority as Democrats, so we have things to get done,” said Anna Wilhelmi, chairman of the DeKalb County Democratic party. “So I am really proud of our team.”

Wilhelmi said attracting companies with unions to the county as well as creating government policies that promote clean energy and help mitigate the effects of climate change are at the top of the priority list for Democrats on the board.

Democrat newcomers set to flip District 4

Democrat Stewart Ogilvie, (right) DeKalb County Board candidate for District 4, talks to DeKalb County Democratic Party chairman Anna Wilhelmi Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during an election night watch party at River Heights Golf Course in DeKalb.

Democrats are also poised to take control of District 4, as mail-in ballots added to the tallies Wednesday appeared to knock Republican incumbent Emmer from her seat she’d been poised to return to Tuesday night.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, Democrat newcomer Brett Johansen holds a narrow 38-vote lead over Emmer’s 1,655 votes, as top vote getter remains Democrat newcomer Stewart Ogilvie with 1,785 votes. Republican newcomer Elizabeth Lundeen’s race also is set to fall short, garnering 1,575 votes, according to unofficial results.

Johansen said Wednesday he was not at all expecting the results to change from his apparent defeat Tuesday.

“Well, I went to bed last night thinking that I lost and woke up this morning thinking that I lost and got a text message at 10:30 [a.m.] that they added in the mail-in vote,” Johansen said. “I was pretty much in shock.”

Johansen, a member of the Sheet Metal Worker Local 73 Union, said he didn’t have political ambitions but when he was cold-called by county Democrats, he agreed to run.

“I’m pretty excited to have a say in the things that go on in our town and our county,” Johansen said. “And if you want to change something ... if you’re not willing to do the work yourself, then you shouldn’t be on the sidelines complaining about everybody else.”

In a late Wednesday morning social media post from Emmer’s campaign page, the Republican combat veteran vowed to continue her service and veteran advocacy, but did not cede the race.

“I am OK with the will of the voters,” Emmer’s statement read. “One closed door opens new and more doors. Congratulations to all those elected and reelected. I am not conceding yet because all mail in ballots must be counted.”

Second time’s the charm for District 3 candidate poised for seat

DeKalb County Republican Chairperson Tim Bagby still is atop the leader board for District 3 (portions of Sycamore Township), with 1,973 votes as of 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Democrat newcomer Amber Quitno – who ran an unsuccessful County Board bid in 2020 – is poised to take the second district spot, with 1,876 votes. Republican newcomer Keegan Reynolds’ bid appears to have fallen short, with 1,467 votes so far.

Quitno’s 2020 bid saw her lose by a margin of about 50 votes. This time, she leads Reynolds by 409 votes so far. She called her 2022 campaign “kind of grueling” but cited door-knocking as a strong point.

“I’m very much looking forward to being sworn in and getting in there and getting things done,” Quitno said. “I’m happy to see we were able to bring back balance and actually flip the board.”

Quitno said another plus for her is adding more women to elected positions.

Shell (Celeste) DeYoung Dunn, Democratic candidate for County Board District 11, (right) and DeKalb County Democratic Party chairman Anna Wilhelmi look at election returns on a phone Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during an election night watch party at River Heights Golf Course in DeKalb.

What does the partisan makeup mean for county government?

Once results are certified, each county political party’s electeds will caucus to nominate three Democrats and three Republicans who will serve on an ad hoc committee, according to DeKalb County code. That committee will be tasked with nominating the next county board chair, vice chair, and leaders (chairs and vice chairs) for each of the county’s committees, to be voted on at the board’s first meeting.

The majority party also gets first pick on who chairs the county’s committees, which include bipartisan groups that debate policy and get monthly updates from county staff on economic development, finance, forest preserve operations, health and human services, highways, planning and zoning and the county sheriff and state’s attorney’s offices.

Under county code, the County Board vice chairman must be a member of the minority party, set right now to be Republican. The County Board chairman also will serve as chair of the county’s executive committee, a smaller body of elected board members who decide what is placed on each meeting agenda for policy votes.

As it stands now, Democrats will hold more total votes in the County Board body. If Republicans remain the minority party, under county code, they will be entitled to chair three county committees.

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