By: Patrick Sebastian
There is a self-deprecating, old joke that is told from many an Illinois barstool: “Vote early and vote often.” The joke highlights the historic corruption in the Chicago and overall Illinois electoral process throughout the past centuries, particularly during the era of organized crime. The joke encourages citizens to get up early on Election Day and head to the polls to cast multiple ballots, probably using fraudulent registration. As is occasionally the case, this joke has once again proven to be painfully true in Illinois (and twenty other states), according to the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which alleges that seventeen Illinois counties have more registered voters than living citizens.
PILF has mailed what they call a “statutory notice letter” to officials at the Illinois State Board of Elections, says the PILF website. The letter is a prerequisite requirement for filing a lawsuit against Illinois election officials under Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C. § 20507. The PILF website offers a sample of one of these letters, which can be accessed here. PILF claims to be a nonpartisan, nonprofit, public interest firm that works to monitor the voter registration maintenance apparatuses in different states in order to ensure they are in compliance with Section 8 of the NVRA. The statutory notice letter PILF sent to Illinois election officials provides a ninety-day period in which a state may repair the problem prior to PILF’s filing of any lawsuits. I spoke over the phone with a representative at PILF, and I asked specifically whether PILF anticipated filing a lawsuit against Illinois at the end of the ninety days in the event of noncompliance. PILF’s representative explained that PILF intends to work with Illinois officials in order to resolve the situation prior to any legal action, but that a lawsuit could very well come to pass.
The Illinois State Board of Elections, however, asserted in a September 15 Press Release that PILF’s allegations Those interested in Illinois election happenings might wish to keep an eye on the situation as it advances. Finally, here is the full list of states to which PILF has mailed similar warning letters; the number of alleged counties in noncompliance appears in parentheses next to each state: Michigan (24), Kentucky (18), Illinois (17), Indiana (11), Alabama (10), Colorado (10), Texas (9), Nebraska (7), New Mexico (5), South Dakota (5), Kansas (4), Mississippi (4), Louisiana (3), West Virginia (3), Georgia (2), Iowa (2), Montana (2), North Carolina (2), Arizona (1), Missouri (1), New York (1) are entirely inaccurate. According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, the State monitors registration rates very carefully and conducts regular comparisons between the most recent US Census data and up-to-date voter registration numbers. The most recent comparison—which took place on August 31, 2015, two weeks prior to the press release—indicated that not a single jurisdiction in all of Illinois has a voter registration rate exceeding 100% of the total number of the individuals listed as being eligible voting age, based upon 2010 US Census data. The press release further states that the State Board of Elections has contacted PILF in an attempt to address the allegations, but PILF has yet to reply to the State Board of Elections.
Consistent with both PILF’s website and the PILF representative I spoke with over the phone, in addition to placing Illinois election officials on notice of a potential violation of Section 8 of the NVRA similar statutory notice letter requests particular information from Illinois election officials (the list of requests can be found in the sample letter found in paragraph two of this article). One thing that is clear is that the information PILF possesses regarding the voter registration numbers conflicts with the information cited by the State Board of Elections. While it is indeed possible that PILF and the Illinois State Board of Elections will resolve the conflict prior to the end of the ninety-day grace period, the possibility remains that a lawsuit could develop in a few months.