Kane County exploring $8 million in voting upgrades, disempowering clerk to revamp local elections

Jack Cunningham, Kane County Clerk

On the heels of a human error that sparked now-disproven concerns about the April election in Kane County, officials are simultaneously moving toward an $8 million upgrade in voting equipment and a possible change that could strip the county clerk of the authority to oversee elections.

A group of local Republicans has expressed as-yet unsubstantiated concerns about the conduct and outcome of Kane County elections following former President Donald Trump’s loss at the polls in 2020. Similar concerns centered around election fraud were at the heart of lawsuits filed throughout the county. None of those lawsuits showed evidence of any fraud substantial enough to overturn any election.

But a human error that resulted in the posting of inaccurate vote totals on the Kane County Clerk’s website during the April election added kindling to the election integrity fears. An investigation showed no errors in the actual counting of votes, only in the temporary posting of totals to the clerk’s website.

Though not directly related to that error, Kane County voting officials spent the past five years warning of aging election equipment and the potential for voting delays if and when the 18-year-old voting machines fail.

On Thursday, the Kane County Board committee that oversees the funding of local elections cast the first votes in favor of a full upgrade to the county’s voting hardware and software. The change would introduce full touch-screen voting in Kane County. The new machines would then produce a paper ballot that would then be scanned to complete the voting process. There are also upgrades to make voting easier for people with vision or hearing difficulties and better audit logs.

The proposal passed the committee with only one “no” vote. That came from county board member David Young, who is among the segment of local Republicans with election integrity concerns. Young has also pushed, unsuccessfully, to reject any outside grant money that might be used by the clerk’s office.

None of the money to purchase the new voting equipment or software will come from outside grants other than federal dollars related to pandemic recovery. The expense must win the favor of two more county board committees before heading to a full and final vote by the county board.

The push for upgrades comes now because there are no elections until March 2024. That will allow enough time for a full transfer over to the new equipment. Any pause would mean the county would likely wait another four elections until upgrades could occur without disrupting the normal voting process.

Moving on a slightly slower track is a proposal to form a Kane County Election Commission. The proposed three-member commission would include at least one Democrat and one Republican. It would be charged with running and overseeing all Kane County elections, similar to what existed in Aurora before Kane County took over elections there.

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham expressed last month that he favored examining such a commission. The impact of such a change would not touch him personally. Cunningham also announced he will not seek reelection while denouncing local residents suggesting any fraud has existed or could exist in the elections he’s overseen.

Young is now the leading voice on the county board in favor of examining such a commission.

“The citizens have lost confidence in the clerk’s office,” Young told his fellow board members.

While the $8 million upgrade to the county’s election infrastructure seems likely to receive final approval, the fate of the election commission is less certain.

County board member Vern Tepe, a Democrat, said the creation of a county election commission would be a repeat of past mistakes. The Aurora Election Commission was plagued with financial problems and rampant complaints about slow vote counting before it was disbanded.

“To me, this is just another attempt to say there was something wrong with our elections,” Tepe said. “There is nothing wrong with elections in Kane County. Stop wasting our time.”

Tepe, Young and the rest of the county board’s Public Service Committee will take on the discussion of an election commission during a meeting in August.