Illinois Listening Session Reveals Need for More Communication with Local Officials and Increased Oversight in Election Registration Process
SPRINGFIELD, IL - Committee on House Administration's top Republican and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Elections, Representative Rodney Davis (IL-13) held a Congressional Listening Session on Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) in Illinois to discuss the state's recent election administrative errors with the program, including erroneously registering over 500 reported non-citizens, attempting to register 16-year-old ineligible voters, and cancelling formerly incarcerated registrations. The listening session included county clerks and local election officials, who up until today's meeting have been left out of the discussions surrounding Illinois' AVR program. Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray expressed during his testimony the need for increased communication between state agencies and local officials.
Highlights from the Listening Session:
Automatic Voter Registration would be forced on all states should H.R. 1 become law.
"My home State of Illinois has nearly 7000 units of government, more than any other state in the Union. Considering these errors, it gives me great concern for the states who find they are not equipped, as Illinois thought we were, to implement such a program. If H.R. 1, the Democrats' election overhaul bill, becomes law, then every state will be federally mandated to adopt AVR. That doesn’t give me confidence that our federal government knows or understands the process for states to be forced to adopt complex programs like this," said Ranking Member Davis. "A fundamental right of our nation is the ability to choose our leaders, and the citizens of Illinois, and across this nation, deserve to have that right protected. We must provide confidence for Americans to trust in their election systems without fear of software glitches."
Illinois Secretary of State did not seek any independent testing before implementing the Automatic Voter Registration program in the 2018 midterm election.
Secretary of State Office Senior Legal Adviser Nathan Maddox noted that their office did not perform any independent testing of the AVR program before its implementation. The only Automatic Voter Registration system testing that took place was done internally by Secretary of State's Office, who also developed the software code. It is standard practice to have independent verification and validation of systems when they are prepared. Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Elections voted on a party-line to deny a motion for an independent audit of the Automatic Voter Registration system, a commonsense effort at establishing transparency.
The Secretary of State's Office has no verification for citizenship status during the voter registration process.
IL State Representative Tim Butler asked how the Secretary of State's Office was able to confirm that an individual who registered to vote is, in fact, a citizen during the voter registration process. "We don't check citizenship, but we check death," said Nathan Maddox, SoS Office. The Secretary of State's Office was also unable to confirm whether or not the Department of Homeland Security had the ability to verify non-citizens or if the Secretary's Office had chosen to work with them to determine citizenship status.
Ranking Member Davis' bill, Protect American Voters Act (PAVA) would secure non-voting election systems, like online voter registration databases or e-poll books used in Illinois.
Illinois State Board of Elections Executive Director Steve Sandvoss expressed that there are remaining security concerns for their non-voting systems following the alleged foreign interference from the 2016 presidential election.
"While we must give credit to ISBE for the steps that were taken to address these security concerns, there is more to be done," said Ranking Member Davis. "We must protect our non-voting election technology the same way that the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) protects and secures our voting systems. That's why it is important that the majority hold a hearing on my bill, PAVA, that will address newer, non-voting technology, which has recently been the target of foreign interference and did not exist almost twenty years ago."
IL Listening Session Participants:
State Rep. Tim Butler (IL-87th);
State Rep. Avery Bourne (IL-95th);
State Rep. Mike Murphy (IL-99th)
Steve Sandvoss, Executive Director, IL State Board of Elections;
Nathan Maddox, Senior Legal Adviser, IL Secretary of State;
Kathy Michael, County Clerk, McLean County;
Michael Gianasi, County Clerk, Christian County;
Don Gray, County Clerk, Sangamon County;
Julie Pittman, Deputy County Clerk, Sangamon County;
(Note: All IL County Clerks Were Invited to Participate)
Background on the Errors:
A glitch in the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) program in Illinois resulted in the registration of 574 individuals who identified themselves as “non-citizens.” 574 people who self-identified as noncitizens were erroneously forwarded to election officials to be registered to vote. Election officials confirmed 545 of them ultimately became registered. The Secretary of State's Office is still determining how many of these registered "non-citizens" were the result of process errors. To date, 1 non-citizen has been discovered to have voted in the 2018 General Election.
4,700 16-year-olds were forwarded by the Secretary of State’s Office to the Illinois State Board of Elections for registration. This was a policy instituted by the Secretary of State and is unrelated to the software glitch for voters indicating they were non-citizens. In Illinois, if an individual will be 17-years-old by the next Primary Election and 18 by the next General Election, he or she is eligible to register to vote. ISBE rejected these 4,700 individuals and did not register them to vote.
Formerly Incarcerated Cancelled Registrations:
The Illinois State Board of Elections on February 3, 2020, notified 59 state election authorities that 774 people who were formerly incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections might be subject to erroneous cancellations due to a data error. Under Illinois law, you can’t vote while behind bars, but once you are released you may register. The issue stems from a data-matching error between the state’s election board and the Illinois Department of Corrections. Individuals were incorrectly categorized as currently incarcerated when they had completed their sentences and been discharged. The state’s election board notified local election authorities to reverse the registration cancellation, and it is up to local electoral boards to determine if any of the 774 people were removed from the voter rolls for other legitimate reasons, such as failing to report a change of address. The error was discovered after unrelated issues with the state’s AVR system were revealed.