Illinois Republicans Sue to Stop Expansion of Mail-In Voting

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

CHICAGO (CN) — A group of Illinois Republicans sued the state’s Democratic governor and others in federal court Monday over a law they claim is designed to expand voting by mail to dilute Republican votes and tilt elections in favor of Democrats, while also risking a spike in voter fraud.

The Cook County Republican Party targeted Governor J.B. Pritzker in its 20-page complaint filed in Chicago federal court, along with members of the Illinois State Board of Elections and Chicago Board of Election Commissioners as well as Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, over a law Pritzker claimed would “allow more people” to vote absentee without fear of contracting Covid-19 when he signed it in June.

Republicans bringing the lawsuit say Pritzker violated Illinoisans’ voting rights “by signing into law a partisan voting scheme that is designed to harvest Democratic ballots, dilute Republican ballots, and, if the election still doesn’t turn out the way he wants it, to generate enough Democratic ballots after election day to sway the result.”

The law in question began as SB 1863, a bill the Cook County Republican Party’s lawsuit claims was “snuck through” the Illinois General Assembly in five days between May 18 and May 22 “by hijacking a bill about the Freedom of Information Act, amending it to advance their partisan election agenda, and rushing it to passage before the people of Illinois could weigh in with their opposition.”

The bill, originally introduced in February 2019, was suddenly rewritten and plowed through the Illinois General Assembly with support from only one Republican representative before being signed into law by Pritzker on June 16, according to the complaint, at which point he claimed the new law was a temporary expansion of voting by mail in order to address fears people may have about voting in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This rationale was pretextual, the lawsuit states, since Illinois law already allows every voter the right to vote by mail and because the governor’s real intent was to “implement a partisan voting scheme that will open the door to voter fraud.”

Governor Pritzker’s offices in Chicago and Springfield did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit Monday.

According to the complaint, the scheme begins by mailing out roughly 5 million mail-in ballot applications to every voter who participated in the 2018 general election, 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 general election, even though “a high likelihood exists that applications were sent to people who may no longer be eligible to vote in Illinois.”

The Republicans, represented by attorneys with the Chicago-based conservative nonprofit Liberty Justice Center, allege that by rushing ahead with a statewide expansion to mail-in voting, Pritzker’s administration is skipping safeguards and developmental steps taken over time by other states that have expanded absentee voting, such as Oregon.

This leaves the Illinois state government – which Monday’s suit refers to as “one of the most inept in the union” – unprepared for the myriad potential problems caused by such a haphazardly expanded vote-by-mail system, which the Cook County Republicans say the public has no reason to suspect will “work any more smoothly than a variety of projects Illinois has stumbled through in recent years.”

The Cook County Republican Party pointed to an automatic voter registration provision enacted in 2017 which reportedly resulted in thousands of non-eligible voters being registered as a recent example of the state government bungling an expansion to voting rights.

The lawsuit also avows that the new Illinois law will lead to heightened voter fraud by allowing for a practice known as ballot harvesting, “in which a paid, partisan operative may collect Democratic mail-in applications and ballots to ensure that they are turned in and counted and may collect Republican mail-in ballot applications and ballots to ensure that they are not turned in and counted.”

As a prominent example of fraud made possible by ballot harvesting, the complaint points to a now infamous 2018 congressional race in North Carolina which had its results overturned after an investigation uncovered absentee ballot tampering by a paid operative of Republican candidate Mark Harris.

The Illinois Republicans also allege in their lawsuit that Pritzker gave all government employees Election Day off of work in order to create “an army of workers to harvest the ballots.” This includes public sector union members with Chicago Public Schools, the largest government employer in Illinois, which maintains a voter profile of 60% Democratic versus a little over 4% Republican, according to the complaint.

“Allowing overwhelmingly Democratic public sector employees the day off to collect ballots, while private sector employees will be at work, will dilute the votes of the Republican Party,” the lawsuit states.

The county GOP also notes changes to provisional balloting and the powers of election judges to disqualify certain applications and ballots as provisions of Pritzker’s election law that will further exacerbate fraud and disenfranchisement.

Monday’s complaint asks for an injunction declaring that SB 1863 violates the First and 14th Amendments and the Illinois Constitution and enjoining enforcement of the law.

The Illinois State Board of Elections declined to comment on the pending litigation Monday, and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners could not be immediately reached for comment.

In a press release from Liberty Justice Center, Cook County Republican Party chairman Sean Morrison stated that “more than any other state in the nation, Illinois has a track record of both corruption and incompetence — and its residents have no reason to believe that the government can conduct an honest and accurate vote-by-mail in the upcoming election.”

“The best way to proceed this November without inviting massive potential for fraud and disenfranchisement is for people who are uncomfortable voting in person—a perfectly reasonable position—to request absentee ballots,” Morrison said.

In the same release, Liberty Justice Center president and co-founder Pat Hughes said Monday’s lawsuit is intended “to ensure the accuracy and integrity of Illinois’ elections.”

He added, “While there has always been a certain cynicism about elections in Illinois and particularly in Chicago, we must fight to ensure the will of the people is honored, and that Illinois voters can be confident in the election process.”

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