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."