By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – While the information for approximately 4,700 16-year-olds was forwarded from the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office to the Illinois State Board of Elections as part of an automatic voter registration program, no underage people were registered to vote, nor did they receive information about registering to vote, according to representatives of those two agencies.
“To be clear, no 16-year-olds were registered to vote,” Henry Haupt, deputy press secretary for the secretary of state’s office said in a phone call Thursday. “In fact, the election authorities throughout the state have long had a system in place preventing them from registering anyone under age to vote.”
Automatic voter registration became law in 2017, providing that Illinois citizens are automatically registered to vote whenever they apply for or renew a driver’s license unless they opt out. Under that system, the secretary of state’s office shares a database with the state elections board.
The transmission of 16-year-olds’ information through that system was an issue of policy and not related to a previous glitch in the voter registration system which allowed 545 self-identified non-citizens to register to vote, according to officials.
Haupt said even though the secretary of state shared the information of 16-year-olds, they did so knowing they would not be allowed to vote if they did not reach the necessary age by the date of the next election.
In Illinois, a person who is 17 years old is allowed to vote in primary elections as long as they will turn 18 by the date of the general election.
Haupt said after recent discussions with ISBE, the secretary of state will change its current policy.
“We went ahead and met with ISBE and we will no longer be sending 16-year-old registration information,” Haupt said. “Now we’re just not even going to send them that information. We’re going to cut that out. We’ll just start sending it when they’re 17 years or older.”
Matt Dietrich, the ISBE public information officer, said in a phone call the agency noticed a large number of applications for 16-year-olds coming through the automatic registration system even though they were clearly not of age to vote. But Dietrich said no 16-year-old got any further in the registration process than applying for a driver’s license at the secretary of state’s office.
“They were never registered to vote, they were never even forwarded to the local election authorities,” he said.
Still, because the information was forwarded by the secretary of state, ISBE sent letters to all whose information was received, telling them their voter registration had been blocked.
“We had noticed that we were getting a lot of these applications coming through and we block those automatically,” Dietrich said. “Those never went on to the local jurisdictions. No 16-year-old was ever registered to vote. And we were sending letters to the applicants that basically said … ’you’re too young, we recently received the application. However, under Illinois law and so forth and so on.’”
He said the 4,700 number is approximate because, “this never became part of our record keeping, because we weren’t even supposed to see them.”
Dietrich said the issue came up at the ISBE meeting this week when board members said underage persons should not even be given the chance to start the AVR process when applying for a license.
He said while he initially believed the applications were being received as part of a glitch, the secretary of state’s office clarified that their sharing of the information was intentional.
“They are no longer going to send them to us and we are no longer going to have to send out letters,” he said.
Haupt also noted the secretary of state’s office was looking into why some legally eligible U.S. citizens who opted out of registration were registered to vote anyway through the program.
“Hopefully we’ll have more information by the end of the day,” he said.
In response to the existing non-citizen registration, news reports of the 16-year-olds being moved through the registration system and those that opted out of the system being registered, Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady called for a suspension of the automatic voter registration system Thursday.
“We are asking that you suspend this program until all “glitches” known and unknown are fixed,” Brady said in a letter to the secretary of state that was co-signed by the entire Senate Republican caucus.