County clerk contenders discuss election security at candidate forum

People+attend+the+Champaign+County+Clerk+forum+featuring+Democrat+Aaron+Ammons+and+Republican+Terrence+Stuber+on+Oct.+25.+

Jacob Slabosz

People attend the Champaign County Clerk forum featuring Democrat Aaron Ammons and Republican Terrence Stuber on Oct. 25.

By Aidan Sadovi and Lisa Chasanov

Democratic incumbent Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons and Republican challenger Terrence Stuber met at a forum on Oct. 25 to discuss elections and the election process.

Along with cataloging birth, death and marriage records and various other roles, the county clerk is in charge of supervising both local and federal elections. 

“Why is it important?” Ammons said. “Because we count your votes.”

Ammons accused Stuber, an A/V coordinator for the College of Veterinary Medicine and a trustee for the village of Tolono, of being a candidate who has questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election, although Stuber and his allies denying and laughing off such accusations.  

“My opponent will continue to try to say that he has not denied the positions, but it’s in print … and now he continues to change his answer, for what’s most convenient,” Ammons said. 

In an article from the News-Gazette published in August, Stuber said, “I don’t know if he truly was the winner or not, but I do think it is definitely the time to move past it,” when responding to a question about whether Donald Trump won the election.

Stuber said the statement was taken out of context.

Stuber acknowledged that Joe Biden did win the 2020 election, but cited incidents such as a flash drive left at a polling place that “put more questions into the election process.” 

One attendee, Jeff Wilson, called the accusations a “dog whistle,” after the forum ended. 

“It’s really a dog whistle to get a person off of what the real issue is,” Wilson said. “And the real issue is accuracy, efficiency and integrity.”

Another attendee, Trent Chassy, said Stuber’s denial could be seen “everywhere.” 

“You can see it everywhere, he said it on the radio, local publications, and even now he’s still saying it,” Chassy said. “He just likes the implication more than saying it out loud because he got a bad reaction from that.”

During the forum, Stuber claimed he was told that there were “pretend Democrat or pretend Republican election judges,” after saying that vote-by-mail is a way to ensure you know where your ballot is, “until you cast it.” 

At one point, Stuber held a piece of paper, which he said was a letter from the Illinois State Board of Elections alleging “improper tabulation of early voters and mail ballots” in Champaign County during the 2020 election. 

The letter claimed that the clerk’s office improperly counted mail-in ballots prior to the closing of polls. 

“My top priority when elected to be the Champaign County Clerk will be to clear up the voter rolls and secure our elections, so that no one in the Champaign County Clerk’s Office, especially our county clerk, ever receives another letter that says that ’these actions directly contravene articles 19, 19(a) and 20 of the election code,’” Stuber said. 

Ammons responded saying he received a letter from the board of elections rescinding the previous letter. 

“See, what happened was the individuals who reported this to the state board of elections thought they knew what they were talking about,” Ammons said “But then when we did the research, the state board of elections actually had to send me a letter saying, We apologize, basically, you did not count the vote by mail ballots early. See, this is information that the News-Gazette didn’t report, but I have the information.”

Regarding his record as the incumbent clerk, Ammons drew attention to an expansion of voting-by-mail in Champaign County, noting that 14,000 people were currently on the county’s vote-by-mail list. 

“That’s 14,000 people who do not have to go into a physical location,” Ammons said, before adding that it also saves money because less election judges are needed. 

Later in the forum, Ammons also mentioned that his office has undergone digitizing important documents, an act that Stuber agreed with. 

Stuber said it was a conflict of interest for the sitting clerk to count the votes of the clerk’s election and casted doubt by saying that Ammons has not followed through on a 2018 campaign promise of appointing an independent to be in charge. 

“In four years time, he has done zero to make that happen, and now he’s going to count the votes of a very promising contender,” Stuber said.

Ammons responded to Stuber by describing how the process of counting votes happens in detail. 

“We have an independent group of people — they’re called election judges,” Ammons said. “And in the room where the votes are being counted are Democrats and Republicans from both sides of the aisle, IT specialists, poll watchers, who are all observing the process. They see everything that’s happening in the room,” 

Stuber expressed skepticism regarding the clerk’s office throughout the forum, including casting doubt as to whether the Champaign County election site was secure. 

“The county clerk has said there are cameras, I say prove it,” Stuber said. “Cameras that no one can look at mean nothing … You say there are cameras, you say you’re the most secure site. Please, open it up to the people of Champaign County so that they can see.” 

Stuber also talked about making the office more efficient by finding ways to do more things electronically and to stop paying an outside company for a website that “no one can use.”

At one point, the candidates responded to a question about threats to election workers, and how they would address these threats if elected. 

Stuber called such threats “unacceptable” and said that “we have to make sure that we have enough election judges from both parties at every polling site,” along with having “election supervisors” that are rolling through Champaign County. 

“Intimidation is not okay — not by election workers, not by election workers,” Stuber said.

Stuber added that there is not much the clerk can do in their own power to stop intimidation, but that it takes every citizen out voting to make sure it doesn’t happen. 

Ammons recounted instances in which he received hate mail written on applications sent to registered voters, along with threats received by himself and his family. 

Ammons explained he has had conversations with police to discuss potential violence, and has had to have conversations with election judges and give them “secret passwords to communicate with us if something is out of hand.”  

Ammons even mentioned that an election judge turned in her badge that day, because “she had a situation with a voter” and did not feel safe.

 

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