Spotlight Politics: Hundreds Erroneously Registered to Vote

Why 574 people in Illinois were erroneously registered to vote. Our politics team of Paris Schutz and Amanda Vinicky tackles that story and more in this week’s Spotlight Politics.

Illinois Republicans are calling for a pause in Illinois’ automatic voter registration (AVR) program as well as a comprehensive audit after word got out that 545 individuals who identified themselves as noncitizens were registered to vote.

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According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, 16 of those individuals actually voted in either the 2018 general election or last year’s local elections. (See a breakdown of those votes by jurisdiction here.)

“Until we know that this is being implemented correctly, we need to suspend AVR,” said state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond. “Especially with the upcoming election season.”

Early voting for Illinois’ March 17 primary begins in a matter of weeks, on Feb. 6.

It’s the latest issue that stands to stoke fears about vulnerable elections systems. In June 2016, Illinois’ voter database was infiltrated by Russian hackers, though state elections authorities say the breach did not imperil election results or balloting. Illinois has since beefed up its cyber security.

That’s entirely different than this situation, which involved individuals attempting to apply through the secretary of state’s office for a non-Real ID driver’s license or state identification card. They’d checked a box indicating they were not U.S. citizens, which should have automatically taken them out of the automatic voter registration system.

Instead, 574 voter applications went through, and 545 were ultimately successful.

Elections authorities suspect some people may have mistakenly checked the “non-citizen” box; at least four have years-old voting records, which indicates they may be legitimate voters.

In a statement, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White took responsibility for the error, citing a programming error that White said was fixed immediately once it was discovered last month.

“While this represents only 1/10 of one percent (of the 600,000 voters registered under the AVR program), it is still not acceptable and we apologize for the error,” White’s statement said. “(It) won’t happen again.”

But putting the program on hold is “unnecessary,” White’s spokesman said in a statement Wednesday, given that “the isolated programming error was fixed and the program is working.”

Gov. J.B. Pritkzer on Wednesday also said there is no need to halt AVR, and that it should continue in Illinois, though he said an investigation should be conducted.

“Look, any voter fraud is unacceptable and we have to make sure that a full investigation is done here so that we know what went wrong, the glitches that took place here that caused this, and that it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I’m counting on the SOS (secretary of state), I believe in the SOS’s office that they can identify all the, any glitches, they’ve already come forward with evidence of the glitches that we’re talking about.”

White said “in the spirit of complete transparency” his office will, however, “gladly participate” if the General Assembly calls a hearing into the matter – another of Republicans’ demands.

It appears this one will be met.

Chair of the Illinois House executive committee, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Westchester, said he wants secretary of state officials to testify at an as-yet unscheduled hearing next week.

“While we’ve seen Republican-led efforts in states like Wisconsin and Georgia that would suppress voter turnout – particularly among minority voters – in Illinois, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to ensure that all who are legally eligible can exercise their right to vote,” Welch said in a statement. “Now we will work together again to ensure the automatic voter registration system is properly implemented.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, also plans to host a federal “listening session” in Illinois, to determine what went wrong. No date has been set for that.

While the AVR law passed with Republican votes and was signed into law in 2017 by then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, those who voted against it are saying, “I told you so.”

“Unfortunately, the automatic voter registration program was implemented knowing that problems like this could exist,” said state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods. “An error like this has the potential to affect the outcome of elections. It’s not at all uncommon for elections at the local level to be decided by just one or two votes, so the fact that 16 noncitizens voted in the last election is extremely troublesome. What’s even more concerning is that these noncitizens, even those here legally, potentially voted without even knowing that they were committing a crime and could be deported because of it.”

The implementation of automatic voter registration has dogged White’s office, and backers of the program have even threatened to sue over its slow rollout.

That criticism continues, with the Just Democracy Illinois coalition releasing a statement blaming the longtime Democrat.

“Let’s be clear: Automatic Voter Registration or AVR isn’t the problem – the Secretary of State’s office is the problem. The agency’s massively delayed and error-riddled implementation of AVR has undermined the law’s intended purpose to make Illinois’ voting rolls more fair, accurate, and secure – a mission shared by lawmakers of both parties who passed AVR on a bipartisan and unanimous basis in 2017. Just Democracy has pushed for a timely and well-executed implementation of AVR since that time, while the Secretary of State’s office has refused to take action. Illinois has now allowed three elections to take place without a properly implemented system.”

Breakdown of votes cast by jurisdiction:

• Champaign County: 2 general election
• Christian: 1 general, 1 consolidated
• Cook: 2 general, 3 consolidated
• DuPage: 1 consolidated
• Lee: 1 general
• Macon: 1 general, 1 consolidated (same voter)
• Peoria: 1 general
• Chicago: 1 general by 1 voter; 1 general, consolidated primary and consolidated election by 1 voter; 1 consolidated by 1 voter (so 5 total votes by 3 voters)

Follow us on Twitter: @wttw | @paschutz@AmandaVinicky 

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