Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Suspicious absentee ballot applications and reports of overzealous political workers have prompted Cook County Clerk David Orr to cancel more than 250 requests for absentee ballots and issue a warning to those who attempt to illegally influence voting.
"My office will make every effort to ensure that only honest votes are cast and only honest votes are counted," said Orr, who will administer local municipal elections in all suburban Cook County suburbs on April 1. "Voters need to know the rules that apply to absentee voting and political workers must know that vote fraud will not be tolerated on any level."
The Clerk’s office detected an inordinate number of absentee ballot requests coming from several precincts in Cicero and Chicago Heights, where there are heated contests for town president and mayor, respectively.
Orr canceled 130 absentee ballot applications after investigators discovered the voters applied for absentee ballots but did not legally qualify to receive them. The Clerk’s office contacted many Cicero and Chicago Heights voters who said that political workers solicited or coerced them into requesting absentee ballots, despite knowing they were not eligible. Soliciting or coercing a voter to make a false statement to obtain an absentee ballot is a felony.
Under Illinois election law, registered voters are eligible to cast an absentee ballot only if they are unable to make it to their polling place on Election Day and if they meet specific legal requirements (see attached). The most common reasons involve voters who will be out of the county or are physically incapacitated.
In addition, many Cicero and Chicago Heights absentee voters told investigators they planned to give their completed ballots to political workers to mail or deliver to the Clerk’s office. Even more alarming, some voters related that political workers were planning to come to their homes and "assist" them in selecting candidates after the ballot had arrived.
"The law is very clear, aside from a close relative or bonded messenger service, no one else should ever take possession of a punched ballot," Orr said. "Allowing third parties to handle the ballot or to illegally help voters make selections are both felony offenses that compromise the secrecy of the ballot and open the door to vote fraud."
The Clerk’s office canceled another 127 absentee applications, primarily from Chicago Heights and Cicero, after discovering none of the people requesting the applications were registered to vote.
Orr is also holding an additional 50 applications, which appear to have been requested by someone other than the registered voter. The signatures on these applications clearly do not match the original signatures on the voter’s registration form. Many of these alleged voters have also instructed the Clerk’s office to send their ballots to suspicious addresses.
As part of its ongoing program to monitor absentee voting, Clerk’s office investigators interviewed more than 500 suburban voters who applied to vote absentee prior to the April 1 election. Orr has forwarded all evidence of possible absentee ballot misconduct to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which will consider criminal charges.
Any voter who has concerns after voting an absentee ballot may cancel it by voting in person at their polling place on Election Day, Orr said. Voters need only to sign an affidavit stating they choose to void the absentee ballot.
The Clerk’s office has also set up an election fraud hotline at (312) 603-0925 or (312) 603-0987 that voters can call if they have concerns or questions about absentee voting.