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Outcome of District 5 County Board race changes after clerk discovers website didn’t include early voting numbers

Democrat Acosta wins County Board District 5 seat

McHenry Count Board District 5 candidate Democrat Carlos J. Acosta delivers his opening statement during a candidate forum Thursday evening, Oct. 11, 2018, at the McHenry County College’s Luecht Conference Center, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake. The forum was organized by the League of Women Voters of McHenry County, in partnership with McHenry County College. Monday's forum featured candidates from McHenry County Board Districts 4, 5, and 6, and gave public to meet the various candidates and learn their perspectives on current issues. Several candidates were not at the forum.
McHenry Count Board District 5 candidate Democrat Carlos J. Acosta delivers his opening statement during a candidate forum Thursday evening, Oct. 11, 2018, at the McHenry County College’s Luecht Conference Center, 8900 Route 14, Crystal Lake. The forum was organized by the League of Women Voters of McHenry County, in partnership with McHenry County College. Monday's forum featured candidates from McHenry County Board Districts 4, 5, and 6, and gave public to meet the various candidates and learn their perspectives on current issues. Several candidates were not at the forum.

The outcomes of three major McHenry County races changed Thursday after Clerk Mary McClellan updated the county’s election website to include early voting numbers.

Those additional numbers made County Board District 5 candidate Carlos Acosta a victor in his race.

It also meant that 14th Congressional District candidate Lauren Underwood carried McHenry County and so did 33rd District state Senate candidate Nancy Zettler. Underwood already had won her race – which covers multiple counties – over incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren, while Zettler still lost her overall race to opponent Donald DeWitte, who won the vote in Kane County by about 2,000 votes.

Acosta’s victory meant incumbent District 5 County Board candidate Michael Rein finished third in the race and was not elected.

McClellan learned of about 33,000 missing votes after results showed 21 percent of 116,000 McHenry County ballots did not include selections for governor or statewide offices.​ After noticing that anomaly, she found that those votes were not included for any of the races. By Thursday afternoon, however, the votes were added into the totals on the website, which do not become official until two weeks after the election.

Asked how it could be possible that 1 in 5 voters decided not to vote in top-of-the-ticket races, McClellan revealed that there were issues with the county’s election reporting software that led to missing vote totals.

“We are looking at election reporting software,” McClellan told the Northwest Herald. “It is not showing all the numbers for some reason.”

Acosta woke up Thursday morning still feeling awful about his long and difficult campaign for a District 5 seat on the County Board.

By the afternoon, the Woodstock Democrat was inundated with phone calls, texts and emails congratulating him.

Results without early voting numbers had Acosta losing to Rein by 187 votes.

But when McClellan updated the election website Thursday, Acosta went from a losing candidate to the district’s biggest winner, collecting the most votes (8,126) and defeating Rein.

“I’m kind of in shock,” Acosta said.

Acosta’s surprise victory further cemented a local “blue wave” Tuesday that included three other Democrats winning seats on the historically Republican board.

“I’m speechless at the opportunity to be on the County Board,” Acosta said.

In 2016, McClellan’s office ran into similar election troubles that led the Illinois State Board of Elections to probe top-to-bottom problems that plagued that year’s primary. 

Candidates, elected officials and voters demanded answers after an election day that they allege was plagued with issues. It was not until almost 48 hours after polls closed in 2016 that all but late-mail ballots were tallied and some close races for state and local offices were decided.

It was state Rep. David McSweeney who contacted the Illinois State Board of Elections that year to ask for an investigation. On Thursday, the Barrington Hills Republican contacted the board’s general counsel to ask for an investigation into how the clerk tallied votes after the midterms.

“It looks strange,” McSweeney said after hearing about the large voting gaps in the state races. “I’m not making any accusations, but it raises a red flag.” 

McClellan later told the elections board that early voting numbers were not included on the county’s website.

The clerk added the early voting numbers, and election results updated on the county’s website, bumping vote totals in every race.

In a phone interview Thursday morning, McClellan at first said the gap isn’t that unusual. McClellan pegged the missing votes to “bullet voting” or “undervoting” – the practice of voting in one race on the ballot despite the ability to vote in more.

“People just didn’t want to vote for governor,” she said. “People do it all the time.”

McClellan later released a joint statement with McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks detailing the vote tally mishap.

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