McHenry County to hand-count ballots in randomly selected race as part of election integrity effort

Training for election judges on signature verification also planned, McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio says

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio speaks to candidates as they wait to file their candidate forms the morning of Monday, March, 7, 2022, at the McHenry County Clerk's Office in Woodstock. Monday was the first day for candidates to file ahead of the June primaries. This election season includes all McHenry County Board seats, the clerk, sheriff and regional superintendent of education. The candidates were trying to get the first slot on the ballot by filling at 8 a.m. When more than one candidate applies at a time, a lottery is held.

McHenry County’s elections this year will include new processes – including counting by hand a randomly selected race – which officials hope will improve both election integrity and voters’ confidence in the system, the McHenry County Clerk’s Office said Thursday.

County Clerk Joe Tirio, who has come under fire for his office’s handling of recent elections, said he thinks McHenry County is the first to implement such changes.

The changes are meant to address concerns raised by voters about the accuracy of the equipment used in the elections, which they hope to “quell” with the new process.

The hand count will be in addition to the state-mandated audit, Tirio said in a news release.

The required audit calls for 5% of both precinct ballots and machines used during the election to be looked at further and checked for discrepancies, according to the release. The 5% of ballots selected for the audit are random.

After the audit, the counting by hand of a randomly selected race will take place and will include officials from each major political party. The goal is to confirm that the machines used to count the ballots match the outcome from counting by hand.

Training for election judges also is planned, Tirio said. One training session will focus on signature verification.

Questions about signature checking have cropped up over the years, he said, but he thinks the training will give “greater depth” to the election’s security.

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio shows off various vote tabulation technology and machines along with election tech Lynzi Nevitt as she demonstrates how voter information is entered on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 at the McHenry County Administrative Building in Woodstock.

“The 2022 elections will be challenging in several ways, but I believe that this change, as well as the other changes we have made up to this point, put us in a better position than ever before and demonstrate our commitment to continuous improvement,” Tirio said in the release.

Since Tirio was elected to his post in 2018, his office has seen some challenges during elections. Last year, during local elections in April, his office ran into issues centered on the design of the ballots, which caused the wrong preliminary results to be posted online during election night.

A change in ballot language led the tabulation to be incorrect, creating headaches among both candidates and residents as the errors ultimately changed the expected outcome of several races. This led to a full recount of the ballots, as well as apologies from Tirio.

Tirio also was criticized after the April 2019 election for an error in the language of a referendum regarding the Marengo Fire Protection District.

During the opening of filing day Monday, Tirio told the Northwest Herald that the world of elections in recent years has been “turned on its head.” Challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as questions about election integrity, have intensified in recent years, he said.

This, in both Illinois and across the country, led to various changes in election law, such as more stringent requirements for candidates’ statements of economic interest. The election also will be on a compressed timeline this year because of delays in census results, which affected the redistricting and remapping process.

“So many changes in election laws dating back to 2018 – it’s been challenging,” Tirio said.

Tirio also is expected to be on the ballot this year for reelection, although he had not filed as of Friday. Two Democrats – former Hebron village Trustee Andrew “Drew” J. Georgi Jr. and McHenry Township Assessor Mary Mahady – will compete in the June primary to see who will face Tirio in the fall.

In running both the election and a campaign, Tirio said he expects to be busy.

“I just won’t sleep until Nov. 15 or so,” Tirio said Monday.