SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House executive committee will have a hearing next week to determine how a programming error occurred in the secretary of state's office that inadvertently led to more than 500 possible non-U.S. citizens being registered to vote.
The planned hearing was announced Wednesday as election officials said that while only 16 of the more than 500 registered voters had cast ballots beginning in the fall 2018 election, it turned out that at least three were citizens and wrongly designated as noncitizens. All of those registered were in the U.S. legally, officials said.
State Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, chairman of the executive committee, said any mistakes in voter registration are "very serious," so he is calling representatives from the secretary of state's office to testify in order to "provide legislators with answers on how this occurred and (to) clarify what steps are being taken to ensure it will never happen again. The secretary's office has pledged full and transparent cooperation with lawmakers on this issue."
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and six Republican state lawmakers held a Statehouse news conference. Some said the automatic voter registration system should be suspended until there are more answers about how the computer glitch occurred.
Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said the suspension should take effect "until we know that this is being implemented correctly." Davis said he agreed with Bourne.
"We do not believe AVR should be suspended," said Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the State Board of Elections.
Henry Haupt, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White, said it is not necessary to suspend 'the program because "the isolated programming error was fixed and the program is working."
Davis also said he is planning a congressional listening session to review how automatic voter registration programs in Illinois and elsewhere are being administered. He has not yet set a date for that session. And he said the state could seek to have some federal money designated to help protect voting systems used to help secure the automatic registration system.
The program, signed into law in Illinois by then-GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017, triggers voter registration for people applying for driver's licenses or state identification cards at secretary of state facilities. Other state agencies also provide information for automatic registrations, but the vast majority come from the secretary of state.
That office discovered last month that between July 2, 2018, and Dec. 13, 2019, registration information of 574 people was "improperly forwarded" to local election authorities for potential registration even though people apparently self-reported as being noncitizens at the secretary of state's office.
Dietrich said that only 545 of those people actually ended up being registered at the local level. He said of the people who voted, one in Macon County and one in Peoria County actually were citizens. Dietrich also said two others had extensive voter histories in their home counties of Cook and Lee, so it is possible that they, too, are citizens.
Michael Gianasi, Christian County clerk, said he was notified that one of the people had voted in his county but learned the person was a politically active man Gianasi knows who is a citizen and had voted several times in the last decade.
"I believe an accidental 'no' to the citizen question was ... clicked in this situation" at a secretary of state facility, Gianasi said. He said others also could have misunderstood a question or accidentally indicated noncitizenship.
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who was among lawmakers who on Monday asked for a legislative hearing on the computer glitch, said Wednesday that while he and others were not alleging fraud on the part of voters, and numbers of votes are small, it's still a problem.
"This situation cannot be diminished," Butler said. "The standard for AVR should be zero percent failure, and that did not happen."
Dietrich said since the state started the program and through Tuesday, the secretary of state's office forwarded 747,391 applications for registration to local election authorities. Of those, 688,845 yielded registrations. In that time, registrations based on applications from other state agencies included 243 from the Department of Natural Resources, and 203 from the Department of Human Services.
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