Local Government

New electronic voting system gets McHenry County Board meeting off to a rocky start

WOODSTOCK – A new electronic voting system for the McHenry County Board sparked an hourlong fight with Chairman Jack Franks to start Tuesday evening’s meeting.

The meeting was the first to incorporate electronic voting, paid for from the budget of County Clerk Mary McClellan, who takes the minutes at the board’s voting meetings. But County Board members complained about a lack of training, a lack of board oversight and an incompatibility with the board’s existing rules that still refer to voice vote.

In a compromise, Franks, D-Marengo, agreed to call the voice vote as well as use the new system, which displays voting results online and on a new flat-screen TV behind the chairman’s seat.

“Guys, it’s really not that hard,” Franks said to audience applause about 45 minutes into the meeting.

But most of the 24-member County Board felt differently, and they let the new chairman know it.

Member Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, brought up at the start of the meeting that the County Board rules explicitly state that a voice vote is required, and they have not been updated to reflect a new system that did not go through the committee process. Barnes is chairwoman of the Internal Support and Facilities Committee, which reviews board rules after every November election.

Others, such as Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said the process should have gone through committee to be properly vetted, and that members needed more training time. She said rushing the process to Tuesday night would jeopardize the most important function of elected officials, namely casting votes on behalf of their constituents.

“I just think that conducting voice voting tonight is the most appropriate way to do it,” Kurtz said.

Maintaining the software costs about $12,000 a year, or about $1,000 a month, not counting the one-time $2,700 cost of the hardware, McClellan said. The software allows County Board members to vote or abstain on their county-issued iPads.

McClellan told board members that the project did not get bid out because it had to be a module of the board’s existing audio streaming and agenda management software. Going with a different company would have required a completely new software package, she said.

Both Franks and McClellan called it a matter of not only getting with the times, but also increasing transparency and conforming to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, such as the visual vote tally catering to hearing-impaired constituents who cannot follow the voice vote or streaming.

“It’s not hard. It’s not rocket science. It really isn’t,” McClellan told board members.

However, several members alleged that they had not received training on top of downloading the software. 

Board member Chuck Wheeler, R-McHenry, unsuccessfully attempted at the start of the meeting to make a motion to suspend using the system until it went through committee, and until board rules are amended to reflect electronic voting.

“Rules are the foundation and the basis for good government. We have them so we can be fair to all parties involved,” Wheeler said.

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