The 10 percent of McHenry County voters who cast ballots in Tuesday’s election sent two village boards and a school district the powerful message of wanting a new direction in the wake of unpopular decisions.
Amazingly, some of the newly elected officials who will be answering those messages are write-in candidates who not only won, but won decisively, according to unofficial results. While the McHenry County Clerk’s Office had yet to publicly assign write-in votes to their respective candidates as of Wednesday afternoon, the large number of write-in votes makes their victories mathematically certain.
Low turnout almost certainly magnified the voices of voters who were angry enough to make it to the polls or to apply for mail-in ballots.
In Lakewood, dark-horse candidate Paul Serwatka threw his hat into the Village Board race after the filing deadline, in opposition of the board’s plan to entertain creating a tax increment finance district at Routes 47 and 176, anchored by a sportsplex that plans to operate as a nonprofit. Almost 39 percent of the 1,403 votes cast in Lakewood were write-ins.
Serwatka won the most votes, officially defeating incumbent Gary Sexson II – and there are still 202 write-in votes left to assign. Serwatka as of Wednesday had 342 votes to 326 for incumbent Ken Santowski and 320 for incumbent J. Carl Davis. Sexson received 213 votes.
In Cary, write-in candidates James Cosler and Kimberly Covelli are poised to win two of the three open Village Board seats. More than half of the 4,179 votes in Cary went to write-in candidates, or more than the total received by the three candidates whose names did appear on the ballot. Of those three, Ellen McAlpine has the most votes with 732, followed by 652 for Erin Hauck and 580 for Steven Degnan-Schmidt.
New vote totals as of Wednesday give 635 votes each to Cosler and Covelli, with 945 write-ins yet to count.
Cary voters could not throw the incumbents out, given that none of the three incumbents sought re-election, but opposition to a major decision made by the board last year certainly played a role in the write-ins’ strong showing.
Opposition to the Pedcor Investment project, a 60-unit apartment complex that will use low-income housing tax credits to help pay for its construction, likely helped fuel the write-in votes. Cosler and Covelli are on the record opposing the project approved by the Village Board in the face of strong local opposition – Cosler headed the citizens’ group that fought it. McAlpine, Hauck and Degnan-Schmidt have spoken at board meetings in support of the project.
Cosler played down the Pedcor aspect as one small part of a much broader problem that he said residents have with “a lack of honesty and transparency.” He said many residents feel left out of important decisions made by the board.
“I think that the results of this election directly indicate the overwhelming dissatisfaction with the current leadership,” Cosler said.
Voters in School District 155 voiced their displeasure with the board and the ongoing controversy surrounding the debacle of building new and larger bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School.
That displeasure was expressed by the sheer size of the field of candidates long before the counting of the votes. Eight newcomers and one incumbent ran for the three open seats. Candidates Amy Blazier, Rosemary Kurtz and Adam Guss carried the day, and incumbent Karen Whitman trailed a distant fifth.
The competitive race came in the wake of a lawsuit ruled by the owners of properties adjoining the high school who argued that the new bleachers, part of a $1.18 million expansion, violate city zoning laws by being too large and too close to property lines. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed in January to hear the district’s appeal. The local and appellate courts have ruled that the district should have gone through the city zoning process before building them.
While low turnout benefited write-in candidates running against controversial decisions, it has not boded well for several other local races.
In McHenry City Council’s 2nd Ward, incumbent Andy Glab and opponent James Walsh are tied at 136 votes apiece. In Johnsburg School District 12, one vote separates incumbents Melissa Tinsley and Steve Rooney for the last of the three open seats. Voters more decisively gave the other two seats to newcomers Valerie Klos and Jerry Harker.
It could be a while before those races are decided. Vote totals as of Wednesday did not include provisional and late-mail ballots – election authorities have two weeks after the election to receive and count mail-in votes as they come in.