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At least one non-US citizen cast ballot in 2018 election in Illinois after automatic voter registration error

Voting tags at St. Augustine College are on display as Chicago voters hit the polls on April 2, 2019. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/TNS)
February 08, 2020

At least one person who wasn’t a U.S citizen voted in the 2018 general election in Champaign County after inadvertently being added to the voter rolls through the state’s automatic voter registration program, Illinois officials said Wednesday.

The program has been under scrutiny for a mix-up that resulted in 545 people who indicated they weren’t U.S. citizens being registered to vote. Of those, 16 voted in elections in November 2018 and spring 2019, the State Board of Elections said on Wednesday. However, nine of them were legally registered and had voted before automatic voter registration was implemented in July 2018.

Working with the State Board of Elections, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office determined that the individual who voted in Champaign County used an immigration document as a form of identification when applying for a driver’s license, office spokesman Henry Haupt said.

There were no elections decided by a single vote in Champaign County in the last general election, and that voter’s registration has been canceled, officials said.

Election officials have not yet been able to account for six other voters, including two in Chicago, three in suburban Cook County and one in DuPage County.

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The latest development came a day before early voting begins for Illinois’ March 17 primaries.

Residents who say they want to register to vote at a secretary of state facility are directed to a touchscreen to complete the process. The first question is whether the person is a citizen. If they answer no, the process is supposed to stop.

White’s office has said it has corrected a “programming error” that led to people’s information being transmitted to the elections board even though they said they weren’t citizens. It remains unclear why some people who apparently are citizens answered “no” to the question.

During a Wednesday morning hearing held by the House Executive Committee, the secretary of state’s office revealed that one noncitizen had voted. White and representatives from his office sought to assure lawmakers that the problem has been corrected.

“I always believe that when you take on a job, you should take on the responsibility that goes with it,” White, a Democrat in his fifth term, said near the close of the hearing. “I served in the military not once, not twice, but three times, so I know about commitment to duty. So I’m going to be at my duty station every day, discharging my duties to the best of my abilities to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again.”

Even Republicans, some of whom had called for suspension of the program, seemed to shy away from criticizing White.

“You’ve addressed it, I believe, with the utmost seriousness,” Republican Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria said, though he asked the secretary of state’s office to provide an update on the situation before the legislature adjourns at the end of May.

Lawmakers and immigration advocates, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the possible consequences faced by any noncitizen who voted after receiving a voter registration card in the mail.

“We know that these are noncitizens who are here legally and they need the protection,” Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield said. “The state let them down.”

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, an immigration attorney and president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, testified that one of the first questions immigration officials ask when interviewing noncitizens is whether they have registered to vote or voted in an election.

“It’s very likely that person could be placed in deportation proceedings,” Ruiz-Velasco said.

While the secretary of state’s office sent a letter to all those effected by the error, Ruiz-Velasco asked that the office preserve those records electronically and provide some kind of more official-looking certification.

The secretary of state’s office also defended its decision to send information on 4,700 16-year-olds to election officials through the automatic voter registration process. The issue was brought to light at an elections board meeting last week.

The office has agreed to no longer transmit information on 16-year-olds to election officials but will continue to send information on those 17 and older, Haupt said last week. Under Illinois law, 17-year-olds can vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the time of the general election.

Officials said Wednesday that there are instances when a 16-year-old will turn 17 before the next primary and 18 before the next election. Lawmakers encouraged the secretary of state’s office to work with the elections board to fix the system so that only individuals in that category will have their information forwarded.

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© 2020 the Chicago Tribune