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McHenry County Democrats criticize process behind changing polling locations; clerk calls attacks ‘partisan’

County Clerk Tirio said process was a result of compressed election deadlines tied to delays at the state level

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio works in his office the morning of Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Woodstock, the day after the Illinois Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McHenry Township's court case against the Clerk's Office over the township's 2020 abolition attempt.

A series of changes to polling locations were approved Tuesday by the McHenry County Board in a party-line vote after some Democratic members criticized the county clerk’s decision to notify voters of the changes before they were approved.

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said his office’s options were limited given the adjusted election deadlines tied to the delayed redistricting process and COVID-19, calling attacks “partisan.”

The County Clerk’s Office mailed out cards with the updated polling locations before the County Board approved the changes. In total, nine new polling locations, affecting 32 precincts, were approved Tuesday, according to county documents.

For June’s primary, McHenry County will have 90 voting locations serving 223 precincts, Tirio said.

Both County Board members Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, and Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, called the process “backwards.” They said the board should have been presented with the changes before voting cards went out. Wegener also said she felt there were issues with transparency.

McHenry County Board member Kelli Wegener delivers a comment Monday, Jan. 8, 2020, during a McHenry County Administrative Services Committee meeting at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

“I would say to everybody I talk to around the county who’s polling place had changed, … many of them were angry,” Wegener said. “I just think this could have been done in a better way.”

Board member Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, listed out the various problems McHenry County elections have seen in recent years, hitting specifically on those under Tirio’s watch.

Those issues have included incorrect ballot language, and ballot formatting messing up vote totals. The Illinois Supreme Court also found earlier this year Tirio erred in removing a referendum question from a ballot during the November 2020 election.

Still, Jindrich said it was important the locations be approved, but said she worried about it creating mistakes similar to previous election cycles.

“To think that this confusion won’t happen in 2022, it would be surprising,” she said. “I hope that going forward we can do better with communication and working together with Mr. Tirio’s office.”

During the meeting, the lone comment from a Republican member, board member Jeff Thorsen, R-Crystal Lake, called for the voting location at Fox River Grove Village Hall to be changed to Fox River Grove Middle School.

Because of COVID-19 and last year’s redistricting process, much of the typical election deadlines were pushed back, compressing the timeline, Tirio said. One deadline required voting information cards to be sent out 90 days before the election, he said.

With the primary election slated for June 28, that means voting cards were due toward the end of March.

“If we waited until this past board meeting, we would not have met the 90-day requirement,” he said. “For them to pretend to not know what’s been going on the past two years ... is impossible to believe and the height of disingenuousness.”

Critiques about certain existing voting locations were something his office could have looked at had they been brought him, he said. Instead, he felt those members ignored the variety of challenges that have come with this year’s election cycle.

“Time did not make it possible to bring those polling changes to them first,” he said.

County Board Chairman Mike Buehler, R-Crystal Lake, similar to Tirio, said he felt the board’s Democrats were taking a partisan stance on the issue and he had no issue with how the process played out.

“I thought [sending out the voting cards] was the right thing to do,” Buehler said. “Those cards needed to go out.”

Finding new polling locations for each election is also a typical hurdle, both Buehler and Tirio said.