URBANA — Many of the early votes cast in Champaign County for the primary election may have been counted the night before Election Day, in violation of state law.
The first summary report of election returns — posted shortly after the polls closed Tuesday by Democratic Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons — appears to have been created at 10:19 p.m. Monday, according to the timestamp on the report.
State law mandates that early ballots can’t be counted until after the polls close on Election Day, and they are to be counted in the presence of both political parties, according to Republican county Recorder Mark Shelden, who once served as clerk.
“I cannot emphasize enough how out of line this is,” Shelden said. “Literally, in the dark of night, they’re counting votes with no Republicans present and uploading them into the system.”
Reached by The News-Gazette on Wednesday, Ammons said he was still too busy with election work to answer questions.
“Now is not the time,” he said.
Part of the report that includes a timestamp from Monday night has been posted on the Champaign County Republican Party’s Facebook page.
“Were you on pins and needles about the results of the election last night? You should be,” said a post by Shelden. “Legally, we all have to wait until 7:00 on election night to start getting results.”
The state statute says “early ballots shall be counted at the election authority’s central ballot-counting location and shall not be counted until after the polls are closed on election day.”
According to the unofficial totals posted by Ammons’ office, there were 32,917 ballots cast in Champaign County.
About 46 percent of those were cast and received by the close of the early-voting period, according to numbers provided to The News-Gazette by Ammons’ chief deputy clerk, Angela Patton — 13,235 in person and 2,064 by mail that were received by the end of the early-voting period on Monday.
That leaves more than 1,000 mailed votes to be counted, according to figures provided Monday by Patton. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, and the clerk has until March 31 to receive and count them.
After viewing the timestamp on the first report from Champaign County, Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said it does appear the clerk’s office ran the early-voting numbers in advance of Election Day.
“They are not supposed to do that,” he said. “By statute, that’s not the way the process is supposed to work.”
But, Dietrich said, what he hasn’t seen any evidence of is that the report created Monday night was released to the public before polls closed on Election Day, which would have the potential to influence voters.
Shelden said he doesn’t trust any of the results in Champaign County and thinks the votes should be recounted.
He has complained to both the state’s attorney’s office and the state board of elections, he said.
Dietrich said it wasn’t clear whether his agency would forward the complaint to Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz or Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.