Election 2024: Turnout low among McHenry County voters

Election 2024
Voters walk into the Johnsburg Public Library to cast their votes on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in the spring primary election.

The majority of McHenry County voters have not cast ballots in the March election.

At just about noon Tuesday, McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said about 22,000 people had cast ballots so far, either by mail, through early voters or in person on election day. Of that total, about 7,200 showed up at the polls Tuesday morning. As of Monday, about 6,800 people cast early votes in person, while about 8,200 people had mailed in ballots out of about 15,000 that were requested. There are slightly more than 200,000 registered voters in the county.

“Turnout has been kind of light,” Tirio said Monday.

Voters had until Tuesday to postmark their mail ballots which must arrive at the county clerk’s office by April 2 – 14 days after the election – to be counted. Voters could also hand in their ballots at the polls or at the dropbox in front of the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock, and Tirio had expected that to be a “popular” choice between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday, when the polls closed.

Preliminary indications were that early voting was down in this election compared to 2022 and 2020 election cycles. According to previous reporting from the Northwest Herald, 8,000 McHenry County voters cast their ballots during early voting in 2022. In 2020, the last presidential election, nearly 17,000 people had early voted. The 2020 Illinois primary happened the week the state announced a stay-at-home order during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While total turnout for Tuesday’s primary won’t be available until after the election, it has decreased over the past couple election cycles in the county. Total turnout in the 2022 primary was 19.61%, or 44,209 voters out of 225,443 registered in the county. In 2020, there was a higher turnout of 23.7%, or 54,775 voters out of 231,089 registered voters, according to election results on the county clerk’s website.

Historically, more voters seem to come out first thing in the morning and closer to the close of the polls, he said. But this time it appeared more voters were headed to the ballot box midday, possibly due to the nicer weather, he said.

“We have quite a bit of activity across the county,” Tirio said just after noon Tuesday. “Every hour the turnout has gone up, it continues to go up.”

Campaign signs and a flag are posted outside of McHenry City Hall, a polling place during Tuesday's 2024 primary election.

One factor that might have dampened interest in the election is that – while typically the chance to vote for presidential candidates is a big attraction – this year, that’s “pretty much decided,” Tirio said. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump already have a lock on their respective parties’ nominations.

Issues that seem to be attracting residents to the polls this time around include the Congressional 11th District, which is competition on both the Republican and Democratic sides, and the referendum for the quarter-percent county sales tax increase to fund McHenry County Mental Health Board. The Marengo Park District referendum to annex land into the park district also was looking like it could be a big draw for voters, Tirio said.

For Wylie Shaffer, 65, of Crystal Lake, who cast his vote Tuesday, his motivation was just to be sure his vote is counted as part of whatever happens in November. “I just wanted to say I was part of what happens next,” he said.

Jack Donahue, 73, of Woodstock, said he voted because it is just what he has always done. “I’ve always voted even if i’m not [particularly] fond of the monkey business that goes on in Washington,” Donahue said.

Both Shaffer and Donahue voiced the sentiment that, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.