News Local/State

Champaign County Democrats Sweep Countywide Ballot

An electronic billboard in Champaign calls on people to vote.

A sign encouraging everyone to vote rotated with other messages on Election Day, on an electronic billboard in Champaign owned by Adams Outdoor Advertising. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

In a victory unheard of in a non-presidential election year, Champaign County Democrats have won every countywide office on the ballot --- sheriff, treasurer, auditor, clerk and the new office of county executive. Democrats also gained an additional seat on the Champaign County Board.

“We have never won any office for at least 70 or 80 years in an off-year election,” said treasurer-elect Laurel Prussing, whose political career stretches back to the 1970’s. “And this year we won all of them, which is completely incredible.”

Prussing defeated Republican John Farney, the interim treasurer, with 54% of the vote (41,629 to 35,239), according to unofficial final tallies from the Champaign County Clerk’s office.

In other races, Democrat Darlene Kloeppel won 52.8% of the vote for county executive, defeating County Clerk Gordy Hulten, on a tally of 40,833 to 36,480. Kloeppel will become downstate Illinois’ first county executive, an office which voters approved in 2016.

Democrat Aaron Ammons, an Urbana alderman married to St. Rep. Carol Ammons, defeated Republican Matt Grandone to become Champaign County’s first African-American county clerk. Ammons won 54.1% of the vote, with 41,710 votes to Grandone’s 35,387.

Democrat Dustin Heuerman received 54.89% of the vote to defeat Republican sheriff’s deputy Allen E. Jones, 41,894 to 34,428.

And Democrat George Danos, who lost the race for Champaign County Auditor by just 36 votes four years ago, defeated Republican Diane Michaels, the interim auditor, with 55.94% of the vote, on a tally of 42,526 to 33,492.

Voter Turnout A Factor

The victories came with an unusually high voter turnout in Champaign County, closer to the numbers found in presidential elections. 79,552 voters cast ballots, according to the county’s preliminary and unofficial figures, for a turnout of 64.13%. Previous mid-term voter turnouts in the county over the last 20 years ranged from 39% in 1998 to 55% in 2002, while the turnout for presidential elections have hovered about 69% since 2004.

Prussing said the high turnout was a result of “highly educated” voters who are “very concerned about what’s happening at the national level."

“And I think that really spurred a lot of people that hadn’t voted before to just say, you know, we’ve got to be responsible and speak up,” added Prussing, who says the quality and political organization of the Democratic candidates also played a role in their victory.

A Gain On The County Board

Democrats also gained an additional seat on the Champaign County Board. Leah Taylor of Champaign defeated Republican Tom Dillavou to win a seat currently held by Republican Max Mitchell on District 5. The district, which includes Bondville and parts of western and northern Champaign and surrounding rural areas, had been represented exclusively by Republicans since the last county board district map took effect in 2012.

The win puts the Democrats majority on the Champaign County Board at 13 to 9. District 5 will now be represented by a Democrat and a Republican (Republican Jon Rector holds the other seat).

Kloeppel’s Plans As County Executive

County Executive-elect Kloeppel, who will preside over county board meetings starting in December, says she’s ready to work with members of both parties.

“And I certainly hope to work with both sides of the aisle regardless,” said Kloeppel. “I’m really going to try for more consensus than I am for just one vote that can beat the other side. I think that’s a better way to get people behind what you’re doing.”

As Champaign County Executive, Kloeppel will manage those parts of county government that are not managed by other elected county officials. She’ll also preside over county board meetings, where she’ll have veto power, the authority to break tie votes, and the ability to propose county budgets.

Kloeppel says she’s been compiling a to-do list based on the ideas gathered from voters on the campaign trail. She says she’ll consult that list in deciding her priorities in office.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article failed to report the Democrats' gain of a seat on the Champaign County Board. --- JM 11/8/18