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McHenry County Board finally approves rules for electronic voting system

WOODSTOCK – After almost six months, the McHenry County Board now has rules in place that allow its members to use an electronic voting system installed in January.

Board members voted Tuesday evening, 21-0, to approve the rules, which would allow the board to use the system at its June 20 voting meeting. And despite a discussion in last week’s Committee of the Whole that suggested that a number of amendments would be proposed, only two were, one of which was approved.

Chairman Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who had the system installed shortly after taking office, called it a good step toward transparency and credited board members who helped craft the rules.

“When I got sworn in, I said I wanted to make McHenry County the most transparent and accountable county in the country, and this will help get us there,” Franks said.

The system, which works through the county’s existing audio-streaming and online agenda software, allows board members to vote on issues with their county-issued iPads, and it displays voting results online and on a flat-screen TV behind the chairman’s seat.

Under the new rules, electronic voting will be used for all roll-call votes taken by the full County Board, except for attendance, or in situations in which the equipment isn’t working. The system will not yet be used for meetings of the County Board’s standing committees. 

When the system first was used at the board’s Jan. 17 meeting, board members complained of a lack of training and the fact that County Board rules did not reflect electronic voting. Members have since received training on the system’s use.

However, disagreements over what those rules should say, and who should be writing them in the first place, delayed the system’s implementation.

Franks, citing his powers as chairman, assembled an ad-hoc committee to draft the rules. The Internal Support and Facilities Committee, which historically has been the committee to review board rules annually and recommend changes, came up with several of its own. But Franks did not advance them, pointing out that the board’s rules do not delegate the responsibility of amending them to that standing committee, or any other.

However, in deference to committee members’ concerns and those of other board members, Franks postponed a planned February vote on the rules and convened another ad-hoc committee to tweak them further.

Board members approved an amendment by Michael Rein, R-Woodstock, to clarify that the chairman at the end of a vote shall announce the number of votes for and against, and that the roll call shall be displayed online after the vote is closed. However, board members rejected a proposed amendment by Donna Kurtz that would have required the county clerk after each electronic vote to read aloud how each member voted. 

Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said the rule would further improve transparency for people with visual or hearing disabilities.

Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was one of the reasons that Franks has given for wanting the system installed.

“That makes the whole voting process transparent, whether you’re blind and you’re at this meeting or whether you are listening to this meeting remotely at home,” Kurtz said. 

But Franks countered that the rule is unnecessary and would slow down meetings and defeat the purpose of having the system. Rules already allow for members to ask for votes to be read in the event of a question over the result, and Franks added that people with visual impairments can have their computer read aloud the PDF of the vote totals.

“I can tell you that every other jurisdiction that I know that does electronic voting, you don’t read [the roll call] afterward. It’s not necessary, and it defeats the purpose entirely,” Franks 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. It was paid for through the budget of County Clerk Mary McClellan, who is responsible for counting votes and taking minutes at the full County Board’s voting meetings.

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