DeKalb County Clerk candidates are eager to make sure every vote counts
The hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection have brought to the forefront the role election officials play in democracy. With the Illinois primary on Tuesday, the candidates for the DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder’s office are sharing their goals for the office that ensures that every vote counts.
Tasha Sims is the Republican candidate for the office. But she says the person in charge should be able to put public service over political party.
“I think [the Clerk] needs to remain that way,” Sims said. “Especially in conducting the elections. They need to be trusted by every side. And it's important to me to keep that completely nonpartisan feel.”
Sims has worked at the county for 14 years and currently serves as deputy clerk. She’s also an executive assistant for DeKalb County Government. But her history in the county spans further than that.
“I'm from Sycamore,” Sims said. “My very first job is I worked at the local grocery store at Sycamore. And I started the week I turned 15. So, I am no stranger to work. I've just always loved it.”
She also serves as secretary for the Forest Preserve District and public building commission and helps in the information management office with the county’s website and social media pages.
“I feel like I can be somewhat of a poster child of government efficiencies,” Sims said.
Her priorities are ensuring election integrity, maximizing voter registration, and increasing voter turnout.
She says making sure information is accessible is key to that.
“Creating a good culture in the office, providing the best customer service we can, and pushing out as much information as possible to the residents of DeKalb County is very important to me.”
And she says there’s a wide range of access and use of technology that any officeholder ought to keep in mind.
“We still have townships in this county being run out of shops and garages and people's homes. And they may not have the same technology throughout every different unit of government.”
She says that means it is still important to have options that aren’t all digital like having government forms in paper copies.
She also values her approach to the staff and to the public.
“I'm not running to be the first of any kind,” Sims said. “I'm not trying to make a statement. I'm running because I care. And I truly care about the clerk's office.”
A long line of Republicans have held the county election clerk and recorder office in recent year, and Democratic candidate Linh Nguyen thinks it’s time for change.
“Many elected officials win elections because they are a ‘friendly local.’ But this position is such a technical position,” Nguyen said. “I think it demands more than just a friendly local. It demands somebody with training, education and knowledge on computer systems and practices.”
Nguyen has a doctorate in Computational Science and has been a chemistry instructor at Northern Illinois University since 2017. She received the 2022 Excellence in Online Teaching award.
Nguyen was born and raised in Vietnam where public confidence was low in the voting process.
“The American people have the power in your vote, and you could shape public policy that affects your daily life,” Nguyen said. “And so voting rights is sacred to me because of my experience.”
She joined the League of Women Voters and was elected president in 2020.
She says the work allowed her to get to know the community, and the officials running local government.
But it was the shooting of six Asian women at several spas in the Atlanta area in March 2021 that pushed Nguyen to run for office.
She believes her running for office changes the view of Asian Americans as outsiders in the community.
“Even though I'm an introvert—and I have an accent because I learned English at the age of 21, I have to put myself out there speaking in public and speaking out and be the change I want to see,” Nguyen said.
If elected, her first priority would be to beef up the office’s cybersecurity. This past October, DeKalb County government became the victim of a ransomware attack, shutting down temporarily the use of everyday functions like email, including at the County Election Clerk’s office.
“I will modernize the office for safety and efficiency, which will prevent cyber-attacks on voting data and county records,” Nguyen said. “I think my knowledge of computer systems and practices will benefit the residents of DeKalb County.”
If elected, she also wants to increase text-based communication with the public.
“I care about this community,” Nguyen said. “It's my home now. I may not be a lifelong resident of DeKalb County, but my children are. I want to make this place a better place for my children, for your children, [and] for everybody.”
Sims and Nguyen are the only candidates for the position in their respective parties in the June 28 primary and would face each other in the general election in November.
For a complete list of positions and sample ballots for your area, check out WNIJ Voter’s Guide.
- Maria Gardner Lara is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ.