A policy study (pdf) from the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College defines voter suppression as “any behavior intended to deter an eligible voter from casting a ballot”. With that definition in mind, consider the plight of many eligible voters who attempted to vote recently at the office of the County Clerk, who is the Election Authority in Champaign County.
You may have heard Clerk Gordy Hulten express his feelings about inconsiderate people who interrupt his busy day by attempting to use the Illinois “grace period” for last-minute address and registration changes. He believes those people, including many long time local voters, should be more responsible and better organized, and he has little sympathy for them. So little that he sent many voters home without voting and required them to win a game of postal ping-pong with him before he would accept their ballots. He says he does this out of fairness to the rest of us. It is not voter suppression. It is not voter harassment. It is what those people deserve. Perhaps instead they can cast an abridged “federal” ballot for president. (Unfortunately, that ballot does not include Mr. Hulten’s own race for clerk.) Its their own fault if they do not win the game before time runs out. Its the fair thing to do, and it defends the rest of us from their fraudulent ballots.
In fact, this is malarkey.
Read the “grace period” law below and decide for yourself what it says, no bar exam required. Then, I encourage you to fire Gordy Hulten and elect Charlie Smyth, who will always make time to accommodate the public. Voters like to fire public servants who do not serve them well. This is a great chance to do so!
As you read the law, note three items I have emphasized with boldface.
1. This is the sentence Mr. Hulten uses to justify sending voters home instead of letting them vote on the spot. I think it permits a voter to ask for a “take-out” ballot if the clerk agrees. He thinks it permits him to force that choice on everyone. However you read it, it certainly does not require the clerk to send the voter home without voting. (Senator Frerichs and Representative Jakobsson have announced that they will work to resolve any ambiguity so as to favor the voter.) In fact, almost every other Illinois clerk already permits or requires immediate voting. But if Mr. Hulten allowed that, how could he prevent voter fraud?
2. By computer! He could use computers to detect if newly registered voters have also registered elsewhere, and telephones to resolve any issues with his fellow clerks. And of course he would immediately mail (“DO NOT FORWARD – RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED”) new or revised voter id cards and see what happens. Of course, doing that would require him to hold those ballots safely aside for several days while he checks them out. Can he legally do that?
3. Yes, he can! In fact, he is not allowed to mix them with other ballots, he must keep them separate, and count them with the other absent voter ballots only after they are “determined to be valid”. That is presumably what he will do with any grace-period ballots that survive the game and are delivered or postmarked before election day.
I think Gordy Hulten’s behavior fits the Dartmouth definition of voter suppression. Champaign County needs a clerk who encourages every eligible citizen to vote, and who facilitates voting by everyone. Elect Charlie Smyth your County Clerk!
Alvin G. Klein
Chair, Champaign County Democrats
ILLINOIS COMPILED STATUTES, CHAPTER 10 (ELECTIONS), SECTION 4-50. (10 ILCS 5/4-50)
Sec. 4-50. Grace period. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Code to the contrary, each election authority shall establish procedures for the registration of voters and for change of address during the period from the close of registration for a primary or election and until the 3rd day before the primary or election. During this grace period, an unregistered qualified elector may register to vote, and a registered voter may submit a change of address form, in person in the office of the election authority or at a voter registration location specifically designated for this purpose by the election authority. The election authority shall register that individual, or change a registered voter’s address, in the same manner as otherwise provided by this Article for registration and change of address.
If a voter who registers or changes address during this grace period wishes to vote at the first election or primary occurring after the grace period, he or she must do so by grace period voting, either in person in the office of the election authority or at a location specifically designated for this purpose by the election authority, or by mail, at the discretion of the election authority. Grace period voting shall be in a manner substantially similar to voting under Article 19.
Within one day after a voter casts a grace period ballot, the election authority shall transmit the voter’s name, street address, and precinct, ward, township, and district numbers, as the case may be, to the State Board of Elections, which shall maintain those names and that information in an electronic format on its website, arranged by county and accessible to State and local political committees. The name of each person issued a grace period ballot shall also be placed on the appropriate precinct list of persons to whom absentee and early ballots have been issued, for use as provided in Sections 17-9 and 18-5.
A person who casts a grace period ballot shall not be permitted to revoke that ballot and vote another ballot with respect to that primary or election. Ballots cast by persons who register or change address during the grace period must be transmitted to and counted at the election authority’s central ballot counting location and shall not be transmitted to and counted at precinct polling places. The grace period ballots determined to be valid shall be added to the vote totals for the precincts for which they were cast in the order in which the ballots were opened.
(Source: P.A. 96-441, eff. 1-1-10; 97-766, eff. 7-6-12.)