“It’s kind of a disaster waiting to happen” State Board’s Legal Counsel on Provisional Voting in Illinois

Defend the Vote –

Illinois has long had a law that states in order for a provisional ballot[i] to be counted, the voter must cast their vote in the right voting precinct.

 

The General Assembly has fundamentally changed this law with HB 2418[ii].  Election officials described the impact of these changes during the Chicago Board of Elections meeting on September 10th as disastrous, ugly, and a nightmare.

 

According to rules proposed by the Illinois State Board of Elections[iii], voters who want to cast a provisional ballot in the wrong precinct will be informed that they’re voting in the wrong place, but if they insist on voting anyway they will be given a provisional ballot from that precinct on which to cast their vote. However, only part of their provisional ballot will count, and there is no requirement or proposed rule compelling the election judges to inform the voter of this reality.

 

During the Chicago Board of Election’s meeting on September 10th, an important distinction was noted by James Scanlon, General Counsel for the Chicago Board of Elections: “I don’t think there is any affirmative duty on the part of the judges of election to inform the voter, ‘Well sure, you can cast a provisional ballot here in the City of Chicago even though you live in Suburban Cook County, and if you do it, we’re going to count all your votes for Governor and we’re going to count all of your votes for US Senate and President, so go ahead.’”

 

But that’s it. All referendums (even state-wide referendums or votes for Constitutional amendments) and offices not being voted on at the precinct where the ballot is cast will be forfeited by voters who cast a provisional ballot at the wrong precinct; a distinction that election judges won’t have to make to voters. Ergo, countless votes are going to be disenfranchised under the guise of helping America vote.

 

Can we predict how many votes are at stake? Chicago had about 22,000 provisional ballots in 2012, before the law was changed. 3,735 of these were cast in the wrong precinct and were not counted. In 2014, provisional ballots like those 3,735 will have to be re-made from the wrong ballot to the correct one. If there is a state-wide referendum on the ballot, the provisional votes for that referendum will not be counted. Now magnify that 3,735 by including provisional ballots cast in Suburban Cook and the rest of the State, and there’s your answer: The votes of countless citizens are about to be disenfranchised, and most of them will not be told that their vote won’t fully count.[iv]

 

As Ken Menzel, Deputy Counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, bluntly told the Chicago Board of Elections during their September 10th meeting, “It’s kind of a disaster waiting to happen. … You’ll get an influx of people working in the Loop, for example, who thought they were going to be home by 7:00pm and the meeting ran late—or they missed their train—and they start looking for the first flag out on the sidewalk that says polling place.”

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