County clerk candidates differ on grace-period voting

County clerk candidates differ on grace-period voting

URBANA — Few election jurisdictions in Illinois are as strict as Champaign County about permitting same-day voting during Illinois' grace period, charged Charlie Smyth, the Democratic candidate for county clerk.

If he is elected, Smyth said, "I will enable same-day voting during grace period registration, which I believe was the spirit of the law enacted by the Legislature. We need to do more to encourage broad participation in our democratic process."

He said he didn't "want to put bureaucratic hurdles in front of people who want to vote."

But County Clerk Gordy Hulten, a Republican who was appointed to the office two years ago, said "all of this is just politics. Of course there is no voter suppression. We're going to count every vote in accordance with state law, and it's ridiculous to suggest otherwise."

In Illinois, the grace period begins after the registration deadline on the 28th day before the election — this year on Oct. 9 — and ends on the third day before the election — Nov. 3, this year.

At Smyth's news conference, held Friday morning at the Urbana City Council chambers, he introduced David Collier, an Urbana man who said he attempted to register to vote on Wednesday.

Instead, he was told an absentee ballot application would be mailed to his home. He then would have to fill out the form, mail it or return it to the clerk's office and then wait for a ballot to be mailed to his home. Provided the ballot was postmarked by Nov. 6, it would be counted.

"We do that because there are two things we want to verify for that voter before we put that ballot into the ballot box," Hulten said. "The first is that they receive mail at that address, which is exactly what we do for every other voter in Champaign County. The second thing we do is a duplicate registration check with every other jurisdiction in the state of Illinois to make sure they don't have a simultaneous registration somewhere else."

Hulten said many Illinois election jurisdictions don't go through the extra measures "because it's less work for them."

Smyth insisted, however, that "voter fraud is the enemy that doesn't exist. Fraudulent, in-person voting rarely happens. The legal consequences are severe. The most pervasive voting problem is that too many citizens who are entitled to vote are unable to do so."

He charged that there "is a national Republican effort to use any legal means possible to put hurdles in front of people to vote. Those of us who are used to hurdles, we'll fight through them. But for those who are not as cognizant of having to play these games for whatever reason, they're put at a disadvantage with these hurdles."

Esther Patt, a former Urbana City Council member who attended Smyth's news conference, said mail delivery delays could keep some people from voting on time.

"That's my biggest worry about this whole thing, the slowness of the mail. I love the post office, but I mailed a piece of mail from Urbana to Champaign on September 6th and it arrived in Champaign on September 26th," she said. "You used to be able to depend on next-day mail around here, but things have changed. If (Collier) doesn't get the absentee ballot from them by November 6th, he can't vote."

But Hulten said he wasn't aware of any problems with slow mail delivery.

"That's never been our experience here. Our experience here is that stuff we mail from here hits the mailbox the next day locally," he said.

Hulten said the fact that there are 140,000 registered voters in Champaign County is proof that he has not tried to suppress voting.

"The registration deadline (Oct. 9) is set by state law. It was good enough for 140,000 registered voters in Champaign County," he said. "We've done an incredible job with great support in the community and so many volunteers helping us.

"What (Smyth is) arguing essentially is that the people who wait until the last minute deserve special treatment," Hulten said. "It's not fair to create a second special voter registration window for those people who have consciously made a decision to wait until right before the election when things are at their busiest."

And people who move to Champaign County just before Election Day can vote, Hulten said.

"There are provisions under the law where he just files an address change affidavit and he gets to vote a full ballot on the spot, so this is only for people who had moved months before and failed to update their registration," Hulten said. "If you move this weekend, you can either come to our office or go to your polling place and you'll get a full ballot at your polling place because you've moved within the 28 days before the election."

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rsp wrote on October 27, 2012 at 9:10 am

My son's absentee ballot application said to return it postmarked by Oct. 15. It came in the mail on the 19th. 

wayward wrote on October 27, 2012 at 9:10 am

OK, I can understand why the County Clerk's office wants some way of verifying that people live where they say they do.  But wouldn't a recent piece of mail you've received there or a copy of a lease establish that too?

Political Observer wrote on October 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm

It certainly would...That's the way that they do it in almost all other counties in Illinois!  You come in during the "Grace Period Registration Period," establish your identity, register to vote, and then vote the same day.  It's that simple!

Here are 3 examples:

1.  From the Decatur Herald-Review:

“Grace-period, early voting still available until Nov. 3”

During the grace period, people who have not registered to vote can come into the county clerk’s office, register and vote at the same time. They must bring identification, such as a driver’s license, and a piece of mail reflecting their current address. This also applies to people who will turn 18 on or before Election Day.

 “We had a young man who came in here, and his (18th) birthday was two days before the election, and he signed up and voted. Sometimes, they forget about that,” Bean said.

2.  Chicago requires you to vote the same day you use grace-period registration.  You can't take an absentee ballot, even if you wanted to.  (Although why would anybody want to follow the long, multi-step, jump-through-all-the-hoops process that Sgt. Hulten enjoys putting you through?)

3.  Madison County:

 People who miss the deadline to register to vote may register to vote in the County Clerk’s Office starting the day after the close of registration 27 days before the election until 3 days prior to the election. If you register to vote during the grace period and want to vote in the upcoming election, you must vote at the time of registration.

Political Observer wrote on October 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm

Oops!...Rather than providing a measly 3 examples to illustrate Grace Period Registration followed by Same-Day Voting in the various counties in Illinois, I should have just saved myself some time and trouble by putting in a link to the press release this discussion thread is based on.  In this press release, Charlie Smyth reports finding that 98 out of Illinois’ 102 counties allow you to vote the same day that you correct your information via Grace Period Registration!

Wow…That’s a pretty amazing statistic!  Sgt. Hulten issues statements time and time again (watch your local television news) that the Obstacle Course he’s created for casting your vote is part of his absolutely essential quest to root out (nonexistent) cases of Voter Fraud…but 98 out of the 102 counties in Illinois are able to see through his thinly-veiled deception and allow their voters to cast their ballots right after they take advantage of Grace Period Registration to update the information in their county's database.

Here’s a link to the press release:

rsp wrote on October 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Just came from voting. A young man was trying to vote, had his ID ready, even had his voting card. Did not come up in the computer. They kept looking but he wasn't there. So they had to call the office and they insisted he had moved. To another county. It was the opposite. I had to ask, he was a democrat. We laughed. I expected for Mark Taylor to jump out from behind the booth. I hope he was able to vote. Just think, a computer error can deny you of your rights. 

wayward wrote on October 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm

From what I've heard, that's not the only time there's been an issue with data. Someone else said that his first and last name had gotten recorded backwards and there were also some difficulties when he tried to vote.

Political Observer wrote on October 29, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I also encountered a case like this, that involved a UI student.  It turns out that Sgt. Hulten had listed his name on his voter ID card with his last name first, followed by a comma, and then followed by his first name.  (His last name happened to be a name that could also be a possible first name for another individual, like Thomas James vs. James Thomas, for example.)  At the time he received the card in the mail, he didn't think anything about it, because everyone's used to having seen listings in the format, "Last Name, First Name."

When he went to vote absentee earlier in the month at Brookens, however, he was initially told that he wasn't registered to vote, because his name "wasn't in the system." He then produced his voter ID card, and told them that there had to be some kind of mistake because it showed that his name "was indeed in the system." 

He said that he then had to wait about 20 minutes while about 7 different people were running around, trying to figure out what was going on, and he was passed from person to person to person... While he eventually did make his arrangements to vote absentee, he pointed out that it was quite fortunate that he was going to be out of town on election day, and had thus been forced to vote absentee, instead of in-person. (i.e. If Sgt. Hulten's data-entry error hadn't been discovered before election day, and he'd gone to his neighborhood polling place to vote on November 6th, there likely would have been a much more serious problem, with much longer delays in trying to get things straightened out...and it would have also backed up the student voting lines as well, wouldn't it?)

One thing readers may want to do -- especially if you're a student, since it appears this type of error seems to especially happen to students (just by an "incredibly amazing coincidence," of course) -- is check your voter ID card that arrived in the mail and see if your name is listed in the "Last Name, First Name" format.  If so, you're going to run into exactly the same problem that happened above, and so it would be wise to make a trip out to the Brookens Administration Building on E. Washington St. in Urbana and get things fixed beforehand.

I'd also like to encourage people to make a photocopy of your voter ID card if your name is listed in the "Last Name, First Name" format.  Please write down your experiences in getting the matter straightened out, as well, and keep a record of it.  This information could be of great value after the election in trying to make sure that something like this never happens again in Champaign County. 

To people who have followed the antics of Sgt. Gordy Hulten for a long period of time, it's no surprise that things like this are happening every day at the Brookens Building.  There are good reasons why he's known as the "Karl Rove of Champaign County," you know...

Political Observer wrote on November 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Post Election Update: There were indeed many additional cases of the "Last Name, First Name" error in formatting that turned up on election day, as predicted in the post above. [Here's a "shout-out" (actually, a negative "shout-out"!)  to the News-Gazette and other local media for yet another failure on their part to take note of these errors, both before and after the election! i.e. Thanks a lot for failing to cover the news, yet one more time!]  

Even in cases where the errors were noticed by the election workers (and/or the poll watchers), and the individual was permitted to go ahead and vote anyway, these errors still had the effect of slowing down the voting process, and that's an important part of the Art of Voter Suppression, as practiced locally by Sgt. Hulten, right here in Champaign County! (Once again, there were long lines to vote at a number of the student precincts, so additional delays contributed by the "Last Name, First Name" formatting errors on the voter registration information only made the waiting times worse and increased the probability that individuals would simply skip out on voting because of the long waiting time to vote.)

And before anybody writes in to defend Sgt. Hulten by claiming that there are going to be data entry problems any time information is manually entered into a data-processing system, please consider the following counter-argument:  In the cases I've seen where this error happened in this election here in Champaign County, the voter ID card was not only mailed out to the voter addressed in the "Last Name, First Name" format, but you could actually see the comma itself printed right on the top line of the address information, to separate the last name from the first name.  In other words, the comma itself flags the error in the registration information!  A County Clerk who wasn't interested in suppressing the vote would have caught this error a long time ago by noticing the commas when the cards were mailed out...or, failing that, he would have become aware of the error the first time it came up in absentee voting, and could have notified the public and the election workers to be on the lookout for it in subsequent absentee and early voting, and on Election Day itself.  Hmmm...

Mark Taylor wrote on October 31, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Well, none of those communistical university students should be allowed to vote anyway. They SHOULD BE prevented from voting and stealing the election for Maobama by canceling out the vote of a REAL AMERICAN like me.

pattsi wrote on October 27, 2012 at 1:10 pm

O.K. folks, it is time to view the following recently aired program on C-SPAN where Charlie Cook and Amy Waters discuss this upcoming election during which they do an excellent job of putting into perspective voter fraud and voter suppression. Time for a reality check on these issues. View the program here

Disclaimer--by posting this, I am not taking sides.  :-)