Report: Human error at fault for McHenry County election issues

  • McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio, center, reaches into a secure blue box for a handful of ballots inside the voting tabulation room at the McHenry County Administrative Building on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Woodstock.

    McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio, center, reaches into a secure blue box for a handful of ballots inside the voting tabulation room at the McHenry County Administrative Building on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Woodstock. Matthew Apgar/Shaw Media

 
 
Updated 4/15/2021 6:05 PM

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio released a report Wednesday on the problems his office encountered in reporting the April 6 election results, which led to a countywide vote recount and ultimately changed the projected outcome of several school board races.

Tirio presented the report at a meeting of McHenry County Board members Thursday morning and began by apologizing to residents.

 

"I know they expected to have the results on election night, and I apologize that they were not entirely accurate," he said. "A more sincere, heartfelt apology to the candidates that were negatively affected -- those that thought they had won and found out the following day that they hadn't."

The report gave a step-by-step look into how the clerk's office was alerted of the issue -- causing the votes for a several school board races and other down-ballot races to be misreported -- and what officials did in the two days that followed.

It also gets to the heart of what caused the erroneous reporting. Essentially, the file used to print ballots was an earlier version than the ballot design used to program the county's vote counting machines, or "tabulators," the report states. The newer version had additional information about the term duration for school board candidates.

The change shifted the ballot's text so it no longer matched with the "target areas" programmed into the county's tabulators, which tell the machine where to look for votes, according to the report and comments made by Tirio.

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"After careful investigation and interviewing involved parties, it was determined that an employee had provided the wrong version of a file for ballot printing," according to the report. That employee remained unnamed.

There are hundreds of ballot styles that must be created every election cycle to list the correct races for all precincts, Tirio said last week. These files often are revised many times, leaving room for human error, according to the report.

"Compounding the problem is that, for security purposes, the election is managed on two, completely separated networks," according to the report.

It was further determined that early voting was not affected, but vote-by-mail voting was.

Tirio said Thursday he will submit the report to the Illinois State Board of Elections for feedback on what his office might do differently moving forward.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His report gave a few ideas for how to ensure a similar error does not happen again, such as using ballot comparison software that highlights any changes on different versions of a ballot. It also suggested procedural changes, including the use of a "version indicator" on printed ballots and protocols around the transportation of files from one system to another.

The report's timeline begins the night of April 6 when Tirio and his staff were alerted to the problem by a Democratic precinct committee member who said "two candidates in a school board race had received zero votes, despite the fact that voters had confirmed having voted for these candidates on Election Day and at this particular location."

His staff immediately began comparing data, running tests and contacted the county's election software vendor, the report states. A partial recount was scheduled for the next day -- April 7 -- at 2 p.m.

After realizing the issue was more widespread than originally thought, officials set a full recount for Thursday morning and invited election judges from both local political parties to oversee the process, according to the report.

The clerk's office staff spent Wednesday working with their IT analyst and software vendor to understand the cause of the issue and develop a plan to correct it before the recount, according to the report.

Once they pinpointed the cause, they were able to reprogram the "election definitions" the tabulators use to read ballots and proceed with Thursday's recount, according to the report.

New results were posted to the county's election results page Friday.

The issue affected many local school board races, some enough to change the outcome, according to the new results. Other down-ballot races, such as park district boards or library boards, also were affected but not enough to change the outcomes.

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