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Winkel to Decline Republican Nomination for Circuit Clerk

Despite Rick Winkel's win Tuesday night against Stephanie Holderfield in the Republican primary for Champaign County Circuit Clerk, Winkel said he will decline the nomination.

Election results show Winkel won by 245 votes. Winkel dropped out of the race on Feb. 8 to accept a new job with the University of Illinois, but his name still appeared on the ballot.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said Winkel's name was still on ballots since he missed deadlines for certifying them, and when they're mailed to overseas voters.

"I believe that it's my job to count the votes as the votes were cast as an omniscient election authority and says, 'Even though we had 4,000 people who voted for a candidate who didn't run, I'm going to pretend that those votes didn't exist, and I'm not going to report them,'" Hulten said.

Hulten said he expects his office to certify Winkel as the nomination soon, and it's up to Winkel to decline it.

Winkel said that is exactly what he intends to do.

"When I withdrew from the race several weeks ago, I announced my retirement from active partisan politics," Winkel said. "Things are going very well at the University and I have no second-thoughts about my decision to withdraw from the race. Who the candidate will be is up to the local Republican Party."

Hulten said it would then be up to the county's GOP Central Committee to fill the vacancy, either by Holderfield or someone else.

Since Winkel bested Holderfield by nearly 250 votes, he will be certified as the winner in a final tally. Acting County Republican Chair Habeeb Habeeb said that means a weighted vote will be conducted by precinct committeemen, likely sometime in April for a new nomination.

He said the party will take applications from Holderfield and others interested. But Habeeb said the changeover in precinct committeemen doesn't make her shoo-in for the nomination.

"Stephanie has a good chance, but there are also other people interested as well," Habeeb said. "We'll just have to go through the process, and see how it goes."

Habeeb said name recognition may have been the reason many people voted for Winkel.

Holderfield suspects many of the votes that Winkel received were from people who didn't realize he had dropped out of the race.

"I am not sure what the next step in this process will be, however I am exploring every option that is available," Holderfield said. "I believe that I have earned the right to remain on the ballot as the Republican nominee and I feel certain that the elected precinct committeeman will see that this hard work should be rewarded."

Habeeb denies claims that voters deliberately sabotaged Holderfield's campaign, and was surprised that she lost.

Meanwhile, Barb Wysocki won a three-way Democratic Primary for Circuit Clerk Tuesday by just 16 votes. The margin is so close that the runner-up, Lori Hansen, has called them into question.

There is a chance the final vote count could change in two weeks, when additional ballots are counted. These include provisional ballots, which have been challenged, but could still be ruled valid, and mail ballots that were postmarked before the primary, but have until this Friday to arrive at the county clerk's office.

Hulten said all those ballots will be counted on Tuesday, April 3. But he doubts that will change the final outcome because he thinks those ballots will probably fall along the same percentages as the rest of the vote.

"I don't have any reason to believe that the 100, or 80 potential outstanding Democratic ballots --- there's no reason to believe that they are going to go 80% for one candidate, or 80% for the other candidate, given that everything else in the county was essentially split so closely between them," Hulten said.

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