Democratic McHenry County Board members rebuke county clerk for election reporting issues

‘The processes in place worked as intended to identify and correct the issue,’ McHenry County Board chairman says

Four Democratic McHenry County Board members wrote a letter Tuesday about the misreporting of the results of the April 6 election in which they draw connections to past mistakes that occurred under County Clerk Joe Tirio’s watch and call for further investigation into his management of the office.

Tirio, a Republican, released a report Wednesday detailing the issue encountered on April 6, which caused votes to be underreported in a number of school board, library board and park district board races as well as one municipal board race.

“We, as citizens of our county expect our elections to be truthful, accurate and to communicate the results and voter information clearly and as quickly as possible,” according to the letter. “If we can’t trust our election authority to conduct fair and accurate elections, then future elections will be in jeopardy and the desire to vote may even fall to the wayside.”

The letter was sent to the Northwest Herald Tuesday signed by four Democratic board members - Jessica Phillips, Michael Vijuk, Kelli Wegener and Paula Yensen.

In response to the letter, Tirio said he has been more than willing to discuss the concerns of any County Board member, local resident or affiliate of the local political parties.

“I’ve opened my doors, I’ve answered their questions, I’ve addressed their issues as completely and as transparently as possible,” Tirio said in an interview Thursday.

The letter poses three questions as to what could have created the conditions that led to the misreporting of results, which Tirio said in his report was due to an employee printing ballots using an earlier version than the ballot design that was used to program the county’s vote counting machines, or “tabulators.”

The newer version of the file had additional information about the length of the terms for school board candidates, he explained in the report. The added information shifted the ballot’s text so that it no longer matched up with the “target areas” programmed into the county’s tabulators, which tell the machine where to look for votes.

The letter references past mistakes made by Tirio and asks whether he is equipped with the proper resources, support and staff training to run his office efficiently. Each question is answered in the affirmative and the letter ends with the assertion that the blame should be placed squarely on Tirio’s shoulders.

McHenry County Board Chairman Mike Buehler said last week that he does not see a need for the County Board to get involved in investigating the issue further.

“The processes in place worked as intended to identify and correct the issue,” Buehler said. “I wouldn’t see the need at this time for any kind of hearing.”

County Board members had a chance to address Tirio directly in a meeting Thursday morning, during which he presented the report.

The first board member to speak after he finished reading the report was Kelli Wegener, D-Crystal Lake, who asked whether Tirio planned to request the oversight of the Illinois State Board of Elections in the next election, given that this is now the third election where his administration has encountered some kind of problem.

He responded that he did not plan to do so, given that they now feel that they fully understand what caused votes to be underreported, but said that he will be submitting his report to the Illinois State Board of Elections to get feedback on what they might do differently moving forward.

Wegener also requested that Tirio give a thorough presentation to the board at least a month before the next election to keep them apprised of how his office is preparing to conduct its operations so that it can identify any holes. Tirio agreed to this request.

According to Tirio’s report, the misreporting of last Tuesday’s election results was first discovered when a Democratic precinct committee member notified the clerk’s office of irregularities.

In Thursday morning’s meeting, Democratic board member Theresa Meshes asked the clerk whether he and his staff would have noticed that there was something wrong with the election results if that person had not alerted them to her findings.

“We would have noticed because a number of those races ended [as] zeros,” Tirio said in response. He added that the observations and data provided to them by McHenry County District 1 Democratic Chairwoman Dee Darling were very helpful in understanding the issue.

She then asked if it might make more sense for initial election result data to be reviewed by staff before it is reported on the county’s public election results website.

While this is something he and his staff have considered many times, “there is an expectation of instant results,” Tirio said.

Tirio said it is important that voters understand that results released on election night are preliminary and not official in any way.

The SBE gives local election authorities two weeks to present them with finalized election results to allow for more review time, agency spokesman Matt Dietrich said.

Technically, state statute does not require local election authorities to make results public until this two-week window is up, but most do and voters have become accustomed to receiving that kind of information up front, Dietrich said.