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Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney addressed concerns about her handling of absentee ballots after a judge ruled in her favor Monday.

Kinney's office has been the target of a Republican Party attack that not only is she opening ballots early and counting them but that her voting machines are calibrated in such a way that switches votes from Republican to Democrat.

Rock Island County Circuit Judge Lori Lefstein denied the GOP's emergency injunction on the counting of absentee ballots.

"There is nothing wrong in this office," Kinney, a Democrat, said afterward.

Republican Bobby Schilling's spokesman Jon Schweppe said he heard from 20 voters last week who tried to vote for a Republican when the Democratic choice was selected on the machine's touch screen. Schilling is running against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.

"This isn't about Republican or Democrat," Schweppe said. "Everybody's vote matters and that we have confidence in the process."

Schweppe said upon hearing the complaints from voters, he reached out to the Illinois State Board of Elections about the machines in Kinney's office and the state board recommended on Friday that Kinney recalibrate her machines.

Kinney said she was in court Friday on the injunction matter and didn't talk to the Board of Elections, but her deputy chief John Brown did.

Brown said he checked with the county's election judges at early voting sites and they hadn't received complaints about the machines.

Rock Island County has five early-voting sites, including Kinney's office. Four election judges — two Democrats and two Republicans — work in an office adjacent to hers.

As of Monday, about 7,500 have voted early by mail and about 4,500 in person.

Brown said voters at the voting sites can see a summary of whom they have voted for and, if they wish, can get a copy of the summary. They're also given three chances to correct their vote.

"My impression is that (the complaints are) part of a larger ploy to draw questions about the process," Brown said.

Kinney questioned the legitimacy behind the criticism of her office. She said the complaints are coming only from the Republican Party and not from election judges who are at the voting sites and trained to assist voters.

"I find it amazing because no one said anything to our election judges," Kinney said. "They're the first people I'd call to fix the problem."

She also said that on Friday the Schilling campaign staged a rally in front of her office, which she said is illegal because her office is a polling place, and four people calling themselves voters walked into her office to complain about her machines.

Schweppe said the rally was organized by voters and its purpose was to ask Kinney to recalibrate her machines.

Kinney did recalibrate her machines on Friday, she said.

Kinney said some of the problems with the machines could actually be "human error." She said a woman  complained after her vote for Neil Anderson, a Republican for Illinois state Senate, was switched to the Democratic incumbent Mike Jacobs. Kinney said the female voter had three-inch long fingernails.

Kinney called the judge's ruling Monday a "victory" for Rock Island County voters.

"My office would do nothing to compromise voters' trust in this office," Kinney said. "What we were being asked to do is dispose of 1,400 absentee ballots and reissue those. Right away, that would discredit this office. It would disenfranchise voters, and that's against the law."

Kinney explained what happens to an absentee ballot mailed to her office. According to her:

The ballot is mailed in two envelopes, and when it gets to her office, the outer envelope is time stamped and given a posting number by precinct. Then it's paired with an absentee ballot application and put into a box.

Election judges take the ballot, still secured in its two envelopes, out of the box and confirm the signature on the outer envelope with a digitized voter registration card. The judges slit open the outer envelope and compare the signature on the certified envelope inside. The certified envelope is the one that contains the ballot. Once that's done, the judges remove the ballot from the certified envelope and reinsert it with only the voter's ballot number exposed, not the actual voted ballot, which stays hidden inside the envelope.

The judges walk the ballot over to one of seven tabulators. The machine counts the ballots, not the votes.

There's no tabulation done until after 7 p.m. on Election Day. A memory card locked inside the tabulator counts the votes. The lock is checked by election judges on a regular basis.

Kinney said the election judges are a "very dependable" group and "trustworthy."

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