Almost three weeks after local Republicans called for the firing of Danville Election Commission Director Barbara Dreher for counting absentee ballots early, she has decided to retire. Dreher said Monday that she was planning to retire next year or the year after, but the election commission board members decided they couldn’t support her any more. She said she’s over the age of 60 and has more than 22 years of employment with Vermilion County, including the last 10 leading the election commission, so she will retire effective Dec. 1. But her last day will be today as she has vacation and personal time to use, she said. “I don’t need this,” said Dreher, adding that this election was very stressful with all the changes in voting times, policies and procedures. Barb Bailey, who is chairman of the three commissioners who oversee the election commission office, said Monday that she and the other two commissioners, Tom Mellen and Charles Bostic, knew this was coming. Bailey did not confirm whether the commissioners asked Dreher to resign but said that they felt Dreher’s leaving “was best.”
The week before the Nov. 4 general election, local Republican Party officials were calling for the removal of Dreher, because more than 400 absentee ballots were opened and processed, or scanned into a tabulation machine, prior to the closing of the polls on Election Day.
In response, Dreher said she knew processing the ballots early was a violation of state statute, but absentee ballots were piling up in auxiliary bins in her office, so it was a space-saving move. The Danville Election Commission handles elections within the city of Danville only, and the Vermilion County clerk’s office handles elections throughout the rest of the county. The city has had an election office separate from the rest of the county since 1909, according to Dreher.
In a statement released just before Election Day on Nov. 4, Bailey said that an investigation by the election commissioners confirmed that although absentee ballots were processed ahead of Election Day, proper procedure was followed, all the ballots were accounted for and secured, and votes from those ballots were not totaled, and the practice of scanning them early was stopped.
There were similar situations of early processing of absentee ballots in other parts of the state prior to Election Day, including Rock Island County where Republicans filed a lawsuit against the county clerk alleging that mail-in ballots were opened early. It prompted Attorney General Lisa Madigan to issue an opinion, stating that no vote counting should start until the polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day, including running mail-in and early votes through machines in preparation for vote counting.