By Greg Bishop
SPRINGFIELD – With early voting for the March primary set to begin early next month, Illinois House Republicans demanded an immediate hearing into how the Secretary of State’s Office improperly caused voter registration cards to be sent to hundreds of non-citizens.
State officials said 574 people who indicated they weren’t U.S. citizens were sent voter registration cards by mistake in the past 18 months. The Secretary of State’s office said it was the result of a glitch that had been corrected.
Early voting for the March primary is set to begin Feb. 6. Republicans said they want answers before voting gets underway.
The Secretary of State’s office says they improperly registered 574 non-citizens through the automatic voter registration program.
Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker said the list did not include undocumented immigrants. The glitch affected Illinois residents who had green cards, but were not eligible to vote.
“I think we’ve done everything we can in acknowledging our error on this and that’s where we stand at this point,” Druker said. “The error has been corrected and it should not happen again.”
The programming error affected less than one percent of the more than 740,000 new voters registered through Driver Services facilities since the automatic voter registration program began in July 2018.
Republicans said further investigation was needed.
“Potentially 574 self-identified non-citizens, these are that were people that were doing the right thing when they went into the Driver Services facilities and they were doing the right thing saying they were non-citizens, but they were still forwarded to register to vote,” state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield said. “This is an egregious break of state law.
“This is exactly what we were talking about when automatic voter registration was debated – that these are the potential problems that could exist,” Butler said.
The state’s automatic voter registration program was started in 2017 after then Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an agreed-upon bill into law. Rauner had previously vetoed a similar measure. The program automatically registers people to vote when they interact with a state agency, such as the Secretary of State’s office. People can opt-out of the program.
The non-citizen voter registration problems spanned the state. In Sangamon County, one person was improperly registered. Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said his office had so far failed to contact the person. He said his office will ensure the person won’t be able to vote.
“Specifically for us in Sangamon County we’ve had an experience of very close elections – every vote counts – and registering those that are not entitled to register and potentially casting a ballot is a disservice to our electoral system of democracy,” Gray said.
Gray said local authorities take information from the state assuming the state is doing its job properly when forwarding individuals to register to vote through the automatic voter registration program.
“At a fundamental level, this is the most important piece,” Gray said. “This shouldn’t be happening. It should be examined, steps should be taken in making sure this never happens again.”
In a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, Butler asked for an immediate hearing either this week or next week when lawmakers return for the start of the spring legislative session. He said the Secretary of State Office must be held accountable and elections must be secure.
“It has to be of the highest integrity,” Butler said. “There can’t be any questions about it. If you’ve seen all this focus on the elections from the last two cycles, you’ve seen meddling from the Russians, and all this talk about things, and here we have a program that we’ve instituted ourselves that we can’t even manage. We need to do better than that.”
Butler also said the state’s failure could potentially result in non-citizens here legally breaking the law by voting.
“I believe that’s a felony under federal law if you’re a non-citizen and you’re voting in an election,” Butler said.
Gray said an investigation was needed and supported House Republicans’ call for a legislative hearing into the matter.
The Secretary of State’s Office said it was open to a hearing.
House Speaker Michael Madigan has yet to respond to the request for a hearing. Madigan didn’t respond to messages seeking comment on Monday.
Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.