From an unemployment program plagued by fraud during the coronavirus pandemic to gross mismanagement of the state’s public finances, Illinoisans little reason to be confident in their state government. Historically, even voting — a revered right for U.S. citizens — has been difficult for Illinois to manage. “Vote early and vote often” is a tongue-in-cheek joke for many Chicagoans, but Illinois’ new Vote By Mail program brings up new concerns for the notoriously corrupt and mismanaged state.
In May 2020, the Illinois General Assembly rushed through a vote by mail program in 72 hours. These major initiatives typically invite robust debate and public comment. Instead, with the vote-by-mail program Democrat legislators took a February 2019 bill, stripped it of its original language and purpose and substituted in language for the vote-by-mail program. It passed the Illinois House on May 19 and the Illinois Senate the next day.
Vote-by-mail program hastily adopted amid the COVID-19 crisis in other populous states like Georgia, New Jersey and New York have been plagued with problems and fraud. The result — tens of thousands of disqualified ballots, voters forced to head to the polls on Election Day after never receiving a mail-in ballot and many citizens disheartened by the entire process.
In Illinois, two primary concerns led the Cook County Republican Party to file a federal lawsuit, Cook County Republican Party v. Pritzker, to block the vote-by-mail program:
- Potential disenfranchisement: Illinois’ Vote By Mail program depends on partisan election judges with little expertise — including minors as young as 16 years-old — to determine the validity of signatures and therefore the ballots themselves. As a result, it opens the door to scores of ballots potentially being disqualified and voters being disenfranchised en masse. Already, nearly 30,000 mail-in ballots in California’s March presidential primary were disqualified when election judges determined the ballots either lacked a signature or the signature did not match the voter’s registration. And voters have no idea whether their ballot was disqualified because of supposed signature issues.
- Ballot harvesting: Illinois’ law does nothing to prohibit paid, partisan political operatives from collecting and submitting completed ballots to elections officials. As a result, voters are ultimately disenfranchised when the political operatives who collect ballots choose to deliver only those ballots who vote for their favored candidate or issue. This practice, called ballot harvesting, resulted in an overturned U.S. Congressional election in North Carolina in 2018. More recently, in July of this year a municipal election in Patterson, New Jersey, was still undecided two months after election day. Nearly 1,000 ballots were invalidated after they were found packaged together in mailboxes — indicating illegal collection and ballot harvesting.