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Election 2014: The hottest races are in Ogle, Lee

Smaller counties ride high-profile races; Whiteside relatively quiet

Lee County’s population is less than two-thirds Whiteside County’s, but Lee County has had nearly 5 times as many in-person early and absentee votes cast for today’s Democratic and Republican primaries.

As of Monday, 741 people had voted in person at the Lee County clerk’s office in Dixon; Whiteside County had 155.

The difference? Lee County has a high-profile, competitive sheriff’s race on the Republican ballot, while, in Whiteside County, Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi is running unopposed.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. today.

Although ballots in Whiteside County have no highly contested political races, voters will get to decide whether to establish a new 1 percent sales tax to pay for public school facilities, maintenance, upgrades and construction. The referendum has failed in three previous elections.

Lee County’s GOP primary will likely decide who becomes the sheriff for the next 4 years in Lee County. No one entered the Democratic race, although the party organization can put up a candidate in the November general election, something that wasn’t done in 2006 or 2010.

Lee County Sheriff John Varga, who has served 8 years, is being challenged by John Simonton, a Dixon police officer and a retired state police commander. The race has been contentious, with the Dixon Police Department’s brass backing Simonton and many County Board members siding with Varga.

In Ogle County, which is nearly the size of Whiteside County, 475 people had voted in person at the county clerk’s office as of Monday, more than 3 times the number in Whiteside.

Ogle County has two high-profile races.

First-term Sheriff Michael Harn has two opponents for the Republican nomination: Rock Valley College police chief Joe Drought and Rochelle police officer Brian VanVickle, while State’s Attorney Mike Rock, appointed to the post last year, will face Oregon attorney Eric Morrow on the GOP ballot.

No Democrats filed for either office.

In today’s primaries, Republicans will probably see a lot more participation than Democrats in the Sauk Valley, not only because of the local races but also the GOP contest for governor.

According to public opinion polls, the front-runner in that race is wealthy private-equity investor Bruce Rauner, who is on the ballot with state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

Gov. Pat Quinn is running against Chicago activist Tio Hardiman. Quinn, whose campaign has hauled in millions for his re-election to Hardiman’s $15,000, is expected to sail to victory.

Local voters can check county clerks’ websites for updates on election results tonight.

In Lee County, the county clerk first counts the absentee ballots, which can come from all precincts. When those ballots are counted, the website will indicate that “100 percent” of precincts are in, which might lead some to believe the counting is done. But that’s not the case. The office must then tally the Election Day votes from the polling places.

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