SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Republicans are calling for suspending Illinois’ automatic voter registration program after further issues with the system came to light during a State Board of Elections meeting this week.
State election officials have blocked the registration of roughly 4,700 16-year-olds whose information was sent to the board by the secretary of state’s office through the automatic voter registration program, spokesman Matt Dietrich said Thursday.
The issue was raised at the board’s Wednesday meeting, where it also came to light that some U.S. citizens who were applying for licenses through the Real ID program had their information sent to the elections board despite opting out of automatic voter registration.
The revelations come as the program already is under scrutiny for a mix-up that resulted in 545 possible non-U.S. citizens being registered to vote. Of those, 15 voted in elections in November 2018 and spring 2019, including two in Chicago, officials have said. However, eight of those people voted in elections prior to the implementation of automatic voter registration.
Senate Republican leader Bill Brady of Bloomington on Thursday called for Secretary of State Jesse White’s office to suspend the program “until all glitches, known and unknown, are fixed.”
“There clearly also needs to be an independent investigation into how these glitches occurred, why they were unreported and what can be done to ensure this never happens again,” Brady said in a statement. “Our vote is our most cherished right in a democracy, and even just one illegal vote can tarnish the credibility of the entire system.”
All 19 Senate Republicans sent a letter Thursday to White’s office requesting the suspension. Some House Republicans made a similar call last week.
If someone who’s getting a driver’s license at a secretary of state facility answers “no” to the citizenship question or says he or she is under 18, the automatic registration process is supposed to come to a halt.
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 answered no when asked if they were citizens.
The secretary of state’s office transmitted the information on 16-year-olds to election authorities so that the teens could be registered once they became eligible to vote.
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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, spokesman Henry Haupt said. Under Illinois law, 17-year-olds can vote in primary elections if they will be 18 by the time of the general election.
Local election authorities have long had safeguards in place to prevent 16-year-olds from being registered to vote, Haupt said.
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A House committee hearing on the problems with automatic voter registration that was scheduled for Thursday was postponed until next week.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat who chairs the House Executive Committee, said he expects White and representatives from his office to testify Wednesday in Springfield.
“We have to make sure people have trust in our system,” Welch said.
He said calls from Republicans to halt the program are “pandering and grandstanding.”
“I think calls to halt it are premature,” Welch said. “There’s nothing in the statute that would allow anyone to halt it.”
Automatic voter registration was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support in the General Assembly in 2017 and signed into law by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
Dietrich said more than 700,000 people have been registered through the program since it took effect in July 2018.
Of the 545 possible noncitizens who were registered, 371 had been removed from the voter rolls as of Wednesday’s meeting, Dietrich said. Local election authorities were still in the process of trying to contact the remaining 174 to verify their status.
Those who were incorrectly registered were notified via a Dec. 20 letter from the secretary of state’s office.