During its meeting Tuesday, the McHenry County Board is expected to vote on rule changes to allow electronic voting. If the rules are approved, the system will be used during the board’s June meeting.
It’s about time.
The electronic voting system would increase transparency during board meetings and conform to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, such as providing a visual vote tally catering to hearing-impaired constituents who cannot follow the voice vote or streaming. It’s a somewhat small change – by no means radical – and similar systems are used by governing bodies across the country, and have been for years.
Yet McHenry County’s new electronic voting system has sat abandoned for the first half of the year, the county paying about $1,000 a month out of the County Clerk’s budget for the upkeep of software that is not being used.
The board first tried to incorporate electronic voting during its January meeting, but several members balked.
They complained they weren’t brought into the decision-making process for the new system. County Clerk Mary McClellan explained the project did not get bid out because it was an update to the board’s existing audio streaming and agenda management software. Going through the process of selecting a different company would have required a completely new – and more expensive – software package purchase.
Board members objected because they hadn’t been trained on how to use the system, which basically is an app that runs on their county-issued iPads. McClellan completed training with all board members by its February meeting.
They said existing rules only referred to voice votes, which seems like a bureaucratic technicality that should have been easily fixable. It wasn’t.
In February, the Internal Support and Facilities Committee reviewed the new rules with language drawn up by County Board Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who initiated the move to the new system, but it added modifications of its own. Franks said the committee had no jurisdiction over the County Board rules, and said he intended to advance the rules as originally written and approved by an ad hoc committee he had formed, the Committee on Governmental Accessibility. He changed his mind, however, after speaking with Internal Support and Facilities Committee Chairwoman Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, about the committee’s concerns. He said the Committee of the Whole also had not had time to discuss the rule changes during its February meeting and pulled the vote from the February agenda.
On April 27, the Ad Hoc Committee on Governmental Accessibility approved sending the new rules to the board. Franks said the latest version incorporates improvements and addresses concerns board members had.
We certainly hope so. While we don’t doubt some board members had legitimate concerns, a five-month delay to implement a voting system proposed by the new chairman insinuates motives of obstructionism also came into play. Adjusting to change can be difficult. New technology can be glitchy. But we expect our representatives to embrace opportunities for transparency for the benefit of their constituents, and in a timely manner.