DeKalb County Board seat flips after state elections board finds mail-in ballots were counted twice

Republican District 4 incumbent to keep the seat based on corrected results

Incumbent DeKalb County Board member Laurie Emmer, a Republican from District 4, found out she'd been reelected to the board on Nov. 30, 2022 through an email and phone call with DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder, Douglas Johnson. Emmer spent 21 days thinking she'd lost her County Board seat before an error an election vendor was caught by the Illinois State Board of Elections. Pictured: Emmer listens to public comment during the DeKalb County Board's Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, April 13, 2022, at the DeKalb County Legislative Center in Sycamore.

SYCAMORE — A Republican DeKalb County Board member will keep her seat after the Illinois State Board of Elections found a computer error double-counted local mail-in ballots in the Nov. 8 general election, the county’s top election official said Wednesday.

The counting error means Republican Laurie Emmer will retain her District 4 board seat instead of newcomer Brett Johansen, a Democrat, DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder Douglas Johnson said. Johnson, a Republican who did not seek reelection, made the announcement on his final day in office.

The tabulation error was reported for mail-in ballots only, Johnson’s office said, and didn’t affect other election results. The error has been corrected and results have been updated, according to DeKalb County documents.

“Wow, it’s going to take me a bit to process this because I honestly thought I was off the board,” Emmer said hours after finding out she’d learned of the error.

Across the country, mail-in ballots have been a source of political contention amid claims of potential voter fraud vulnerability. Despite widespread claims nationally of mail-in and absentee ballot fraud, it is rare, The Associated Press has reported.

The concern went mainstream during the 2020 presidential election in which many voters turned to mail-in and early voting options during the pandemic. A May 2022 Associated Press survey of states that allowed the use of drop boxes in the 2020 presidential election found no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft involving drop boxes that could have affected the results.

In DeKalb, the tabulation error was not attributed to fraud, but to a vendor inadvertently uploading the mail-in results twice. The errant results were identified and corrected after they were posted to the county’s portal through Election Systems and Software, officials said Wednesday.

“When [Illinois State Board of Elections] started going through it they saw a discrepancy and they called us up and said ‘contact your vendor and see what you did here, what’s up?’” Johnson said.

A Wednesday news release from Johnson’s office said the mail-in ballots in the November general election were added twice by the county’s ballot tabulator vendor, Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software. The company did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“The Vote by Mail votes were uploaded, but to the wrong column. The Vote by Mail votes were uploaded to the Early Voting results. Then the Vote by Mail votes were uploaded to the Vote by Mail column. Which means that Vote by Mail votes were originally added twice,” Johnson wrote in the news release.

Johnson said a reporter asked him on election night where the vote by mail ballots were, and he said he recalled saying they’d been lumped in with the early voting ballots.

“I was correct at the time, but the next morning the vendor came back in to go back over stuff and he’s like, ‘Oh my, I didn’t upload the vote by mails’ because the column was zero,” Johnson said. “So he went ahead and uploaded them, which he shouldn’t have done.”

A separate issue was reported during the June primaries, when the new elected software delayed results reporting for several hours during the primary election night.

Error flips County Board District 4 race

Emmer said she found out about the changed election results through an email Johnson sent her. A short while later, Johnson called clarifying the situation, Emmer said, adding that before the call she wasn’t sure she believed it.

Emmer said she was pleasantly surprised by the change in election results but she also empathized with her competitor who had an experience opposite to hers.

“I feel bad for Brett Johansen because he thought he’d won,” Emmer said. “I’m happy but I also feel bad about how this went down.”

DeKalb County Clerk Doug Johnson announced through a news release on Nov. 30, 2022 – his last day in office – the Illinois State Board of Elections "found an error in the election uploads for DeKalb County's results" in the Nov. 8, 2022 midterm election. The picture was taken on Nov. 22, 2021.

Johansen previously was listed as one of the two winners of the DeKalb County Board District 4 race. Although Emmer will keep her seat on the County Board, Democrats are poised to take the majority for the first time since 2014.

Johansen did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

According to county documents, as of 7 p.m. Nov. 9, Johansen had received 1,693 votes – 38 more than Emmer, at the time.

Emmer said between Nov. 9 and Nov. 30 she was sad to lose her seat on the County Board but “figured the voters spoke.”

After updated results were posted Wednesday, Johansen’s tally was down to 1,445, putting him last in a four-person race.

Emmer, who received 1,540 votes, will serve alongside Democrat Stewart Ogilvie. Elizabeth Lundeen, a Republican, also was unsuccessful in her bid to join the DeKalb County Board.

“I feel very good that the state election board is there to catch these issues,” Emmer said. “I would like to learn what happened with the vendor so that this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

Johnson said he’s also pleased with the ability of the Illinois State Board of Elections’ ability to catch the error.

“And that’s why we have all these checks and balances to do things like this. So the process worked,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the error did not affect the results of any other race in DeKalb County but did increase the spread between some candidates.

With the updated results, Republican Tasha Sims won the election to follow Johnson as Dekalb County’s next Clerk and Recorder by more than 2,000 votes. On Nov. 9, Sims was ahead of Democratic candidate Linh Nguyen by about 500 ballots.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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