Controversial precinct maps focus of special McHenry County Board meeting Wednesday

Democrats have argued the map proposal is filled with errors that could confuse voters

The McHenry County Board will host a special meeting Wednesday to vote on new precinct maps after the previous map proposal in December was deemed flawed.

Democrats in different roles throughout the county blasted the December map proposal by McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio, a Republican, for being filled with mistakes and released just days prior to the December meeting. In response, the County Board agreed to postpone voting on the maps until Jan. 12 to give the clerk’s office time to make changes.

Changes to the precinct maps were released by the county on Friday and Democratic Party of McHenry County Chair Kristina Zahorik said they have not improved.

“When you look at the maps as were initially contrived and now this one, the concerns we presented to the County Board are not addressed,” Zahorik said.

Precincts determines where the people who live in the a particular area will go to vote. Voting locations are often a public building located within the precinct. Each McHenry County precinct has about 800 to 1,200 people.

Staff at the county’s geographic information system division went through the maps since the December meeting and made changes Democrats asked for, Tirio said.

“The county GIS team re-examined the maps and looked for areas where, in addition to the other rules, looked for opportunities to avoid having a major road, river or other such impediment split a precinct,” Tirio said in an email.

However, the map still divides neighborhoods, Zahorik said. She pointed to some precincts in Grafton Township where voters who live on the same street were divided into two different precincts, which means someone may not go to the same place to vote as their neighbor, leading to confusion.

“They just don’t make sense to me,” Zahorik said.

A map shows proposed precinct boundaries in Grafton Township.

More time to work on the maps would have been helpful, Tirio said. In December, he said a new state law passed in November gave him little notice to meet a deadline at the end of this week for redrawing the precincts, which counties can do each year.

“I think it would make sense to put together an ad hoc committee after the November election and when the new board, clerk and others are seated,” he said of future changes to the map. “If we are committed to working together, I believe we could come to agreement on a process, some guiding principals, and with the help of our GIS partners, come to a set of precinct maps that benefits from that diverse input.”

Zahorik said the county has wanted to make adjustments to precincts for several years to reflect population changes and the clerk’s office should have gotten to work on the maps when the Census data was released in the summer.

Now, Zahorik said the best solution would be to leave the maps as they are and split any precinct up that has more than 1,200 people, the maximum allowed under state law. She said she thinks Tirio’s office failed to look at how voters would be impacted by the map.

“It’s as if someone who doesn’t understand their job or their community drew the map or just let the computer do it,” Zahorik said.

The map also puts multiple county board and state legislative districts in a single precinct, which means more ballot versions will be needed at each polling location, increasing the possibility of error, Zahorik said, noting previous issues with ballots under Tirio’s leadership.

In April 2021, a recount was required after changes to ballot language led several races to be incorrectly counted on election night.

“I don’t want to see a situation just because of human error, people are disenfranchise from voting because they’re getting the wrong ballot styles,” Zahorik said.

However, Tirio said the importance of precincts in today’s elections is not as important as they were in the days when votes were counted by hand.

“Today, the work done on Election Day by election judges is much less labor-intensive,” Tirio said. “Furthermore, so much more voting is done either early or by mail that the demand on Election Day judges continues to be reduced.”

The latest map proposal, which would increase the number of precincts in the county from 212 to 223, will go before the County Board for a final vote on Wednesday evening. Barring additional changes, some McHenry County voters will be notified they will have a new polling place for the June primary and November election.