Does McHenry County really need state election officials to supervise upcoming elections in the spring and fall of 2020?
The answer probably is yes.
On Tuesday, State. Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, and County Board Chairman Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, lent their support to calls for the Illinois State Board of Elections to assist in monitoring of local elections to prevent voters from being disenfranchised in the high-turnout races surely to come next year.
“The involvement of nonpartisan, outside observers will assure county voters that they will have no problem checking in at their polling places, that their ballots will be correct, and that every single vote will be counted,” Franks said in a statement.
This is more than grandstanding by a pair of politicians. Recent elections in McHenry County, including one overseen by County Clerk Joe Tirio in April, have seen some troubling irregularities.
In March 2016, under former County Clerk Mary McClellan, there were long lines and some voters were turned away at polling places because electronic poll books malfunctioned. A judge ordered the polls remain open an extra 90 minutes, but some polling places didn’t get that message and closed early. Results of the election were not tallied until almost two full days after polls closed. Voters were left angered by the debacle.
In November 2018, 33,000 early votes were not included in the initial reported vote count. McClellan did not add them to the total for almost two days, after being faced with questions about how so many people would not have voted in statewide races such as the governor’s race. Luckily, the votes were counted – their inclusion changed the results of some local elections.
Tirio, who was elected county clerk in that November 2018 race, said he planned to improve the accuracy of local elections. His first go at overseeing the vote in April 2019 didn't include widespread problems with vote tabulation or voters being turned away – but it was not trouble-free.
In April, the question for the Marengo Fire Protection District was incorrectly expressed on some ballots. Another problem arose with the Woodstock Fire Protection District referendum, and a Cary District 26 race that didn’t exist also was listed on some ballots.
If a question is inaccurately posed on a ballot and the result can be overturned in court, that can thwart the popular will – in effect disenfranchising everyone who voted for it.
There’s every reason to expect that voter turnout in the 2020 elections will be at least as heavy as in any of the past 20 years. There are likely to be lines at the polls even without technological breakdowns.
McHenry County needs the next two elections to be problem-free, with results promptly reported.
If the Illinois State Board of Elections can provide monitoring and assistance that makes the process go smoother, Tirio should accept that help.