Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's angry, but registration problem fixed

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White says he's angry, but registration problem fixed

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Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White told a legislative panel Wednesday that the programming error that led to more than 500 people who may have been non-U.S. citizens being registered to vote was corrected when discovered and automatic voter registration should not be interrupted.

"I'm angry at what happened," White told the House executive committee. "I've put my staff on notice, zero tolerance will be the order of the day."

But, he added, the problem was fixed the day it was found, on Dec. 12, and "there was no effort put forth to hide anything or to cook the books, so to speak."

The hearing followed calls by some Republicans to suspend the program to make sure more mistakes weren't made.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, a member of the committee, noted that since the issue was reported last month, other problems have surfaced. At least one person who declined the offer to register at a secretary of state facility was registered by an election authority anyway. Also, the names of 4,700 16-year-olds were transmitted from the secretary of state to the State Board of Elections. No underage voter was registered, officials have said. The voting age is 18.

While Butler pointed out during the hearing that there has been no indication of fraud on the part of people incorrectly registered, the problems "play into people's fears that the election system is compromised," he said.

"I didn't hear anything today that relieves a lot of my continued concerns," Butler said after the hearing. "I think we need to continue to look at suspending" the program.

But Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, chairman of the committee, said it's "pretty clear that the program is in good shape. I'm very confident in the secretary and his staff being in charge, and I don't think there's any need for a pause, and that's why you didn't hear anyone call for one."

"We were being nice to the secretary today," Butler said when asked why there was no call for a pause during the hearing.

During the hearing, Nathan Maddox, senior legal advisor to White, said he did think wording being used to ask REAL ID applicants about voting can be confusing. Those applicants -- who must be citizens -- are told information will be sent to election authorities for registration "unless you decline. You want us to do so?"

"It just isn't clear enough," Maddox said after the hearing. "I think the questions and responses need to be less ambiguous." But he also said making that change would take collaboration and "it might be two or three months."

Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday that updated statistics about the programming error shows that starting in July 2018, 574 individuals checked "no" to a citizenship question but had their names forwarded to one of 48 election jurisdictions. Of those, 545 were registered and 379 have been removed from voter rolls.

New information also shows that 16 people voted in at least one of three elections -- November 2018 or the local primary and general elections in 2019. Of those 16, nine have been confirmed as legitimately registered before going through the automatic registration process. The citizenship status of six has not been determined by local election authorities and one person was a confirmed noncitizen. That person voted in 2018 in Champaign County and has since been removed from the rolls. The citizenship status of three people in Cook County, one in DuPage County and two in Chicago remain unknown.

Butler said he thinks secretary of state workers who take information later passed on to election officials for registration should be deputy registrars. He also said they should get better training.

Dietrich said that as of Wednesday, the automatic voter registration system at secretary of state facilities has yielded 763,825 applications sent to local election officials resulting in 703,418 local registrations authorized.

Four other state agencies are named in the law as those who should participate in the program, but only two have referred people for voting so far, officials said. Dietrich said the Department of Natural Resources has referred 320 people who applied for registration, and 253 had registered. At the Department of Human Services, there were 271 referrals and 198 registrations.

The program has not yet been used at the Department of Employment Security or the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, he said.

At a separate Springfield event Wednesday, Gov. JB Pritzker said each agency to be involved is "making sure that all rules are followed. ... I don't think the public would want it done any other way, and so there's just a very careful process going on."

More testimony on problems with the automatic registration system is expected on Feb. 24 in Springfield. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, the top Republican on the U.S. House committee on administration, has scheduled a listening session about Illinois elections at 9 a.m., with the location to be determined.

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