McHenry County Board Democrats concerned about getting short straw for new terms

One member said she thinks new rules to determine who gets two- or four-year terms are ‘partisan politics’; Republican members say it isn’t

McHenry County Board member Michael Vijuk is seen during a Committee of the Whole meeting of the McHenry County Board Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the McHenry County Administrative Building in Woodstock.

McHenry County — Half of the McHenry County Board will have a two-year term come November as part of the process to determine how elections are staggered for its members over the course of the next decade.

The other half, which will be determined by who gets the most votes in November’s general election, will get a four-year term.

Despite the process being considered random, a few board members, mostly Democrats, said they felt the process was partisan with the Democrats getting the short end of the stick. Republican members rejected that criticism.

“I think it’s partisan politics,” County Board member Paul Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, said. “It is perpetuating the majority to continue to have their initial four-year terms without regard to people who come in second.”

The final vote on the process was 13-6. Those against were all the Democrats present. Those were County Board members Yensen, Michael Vijuk, D-Cary, Carlos Acosta, D-Woodstock, Carolyn Campbell, D-Crystal Lake, Tanya Jindrich, D-Crystal Lake, and Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake.

For those whose seats start out with a two-year term, they will then have two four-year terms to round out the decade.

The other half of the seats will be reversed, starting with two four-year terms and ending the decade on a two-year term.

The seats that end up in those two groups will be determined based on November’s general election results. With each district set to have two members, the highest vote-getter in each district will start out with four years, while the other will start with a two-year term.

As part of the county’s once-in-a-decade reapportionment process, the County Board opted to reduce its number of seats from 24 to 18, but increase the number of districts from six to nine. This will mean two members in each district.

The new process, approved Tuesday, is a departure from what the county has previously done. In the past, the county has chosen who starts out with a two-year term by drawing straws.

There are an unlimited ways to determine it, as long as it’s random, County Administrator Peter Austin said.

“It could have been anything,” Austin said Wednesday. “We could have raced turtles, or gender reveal balloons pop, ping-pong balls, anything that’s random.”

Other methods include a lottery-style system or a coin flip. Both Yensen and Vijuk at the meeting said they didn’t think there was anything wrong with the current system, saying the new one favors Republicans.

“I don’t even know why we’re discussing it when the system was not broken,” Yensen said.

County Board member Jim Kearns, R-Huntley, said he doesn’t expect to receive the most votes in his race. He says that’s OK.

“If they get the most votes, that person should get four years,” Kearns said. “Let’s not cry [about] this Democrat-Republican garbage. It’s garbage.”

Another wrinkle to this is the timing of the vote.

As part of state law, the county is required to determine this process before September. In past decades, the county has opted to wait until the new board is seated in December, and then carry out the process.

This was something Austin said wasn’t allowed, despite it having been done in previous decades.

“What had been done in 2012 and 2002 … was inconsistent with state law,” Austin said. “With that knowledge, we wanted to be consistent with the law.”