WOODSTOCK – The breakdown of early voting totals in McHenry County might offer a glimpse into the crystal ball of local politics.
Does the future include a blue wave?
In 2014, the last time there was a gubernatorial race in Illinois,
460 Democrats voted early – a droplet compared with the 3,165 Republicans who turned out, McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan said.
Before Tuesday’s primary, more Democrats than Republican voted early.
In total, McClellan estimated that
6,988 voters turned in ballots early – and 3,767 of them came from Democrats. On the Republican side, 3,221 early voters showed up, making this year’s early voting period a near split down the middle.
McHenry County Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Kristina Zahorik said the numbers might not suggest a cataclysmic shift in McHenry County politics, but the uptick in voting shows the Democrats are back, with a new energy tied to several strong candidates at the state and local levels.
“I wouldn’t call it a blue wave yet,” Zahorik said. “You’re seeing more people engaged.”
The McHenry County Board’s District 2 race featured two Republicans – but it was Democrat Suzanne Ness who received the most support with 2,983 votes, according to unofficial election results.
To Zahorik, the numbers show how things are changing in a part of Illinois where the County Board has forever held a majority of Republican members.
“It’s exciting for the county, because it’s important to have different voices at the table,” Zahorik said. “McHenry County isn’t one party.”
The shift is clear in the gubernatorial results in McHenry County.
Unofficial election results show that 47,515 McHenry County residents voted in the governor primaries – 25,450 of them voted Republican, and 22,065 voted Democrat.
Billionaire J.B. Pritzker earned 38 percent of the McHenry County vote against his five Democratic opponents, and he now will face Gov. Bruce Rauner in November.
McHenry County Chairman Jack Franks, the first popularly elected Democratic chairman in the board’s history, said Rauner had a lot to do with the county’s shifting numbers.
“It shows a lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side because of the failed leadership of Bruce Rauner, and enthusiasm on the Democratic side because they see an opportunity to take over the governorship,” Franks said.
Historically, the Democratic Party has made few inroads in McHenry County – but Democrats on the ground here believe the party has a chance to take up a chunk of real estate on the County Board next year.
“This is going to be the year for Democrats,” District 5 County Board member Paula Yensen said. “The Democrats in the electorate are very motivated. They’re motivated voters. They’re engaged in their community, and that’s reflected in the voter turnout.”
In 2016, Yensen was the only Democratic County Board candidate of 12 who prevailed, not counting Franks’ victory.
Yensen pointed to a party energy that continues to pick up steam on both national and local levels – particularly inside the Democratic Party of McHenry County, where more members are showing up to monthly meetings.
“We have a chance to pick up County Board seats,” Yensen said. “We have an opportunity to have a different voice representing working families and seniors, and bringing to the table a different perspective. Diversity of thought strengthens democracy.”