Absentee ballot fraud case sends message

July 11, 2002
Press Release

The conviction of a precinct captain charged with absentee ballot fraud stemming from the March 2000 primary election sends a signal that vote fraud will not be tolerated, Cook County Clerk David Orr said today.

Patricia Deganutti, of Cicero, who served as a precinct captain in Cicero, was convicted of two felony counts of unlawful observation of voting and two counts of taking an absentee ballot of another person and depositing it in the mail.

"This case sends a message to precinct captains, polling place workers and voters," Orr said. "To preserve the honesty and integrity of the electoral process, we must protect each citizen’s right to vote from those who seek to abuse it."

The abnormally high number of absentee ballots from certain precincts throughout suburban Cook County during the March 2000 primary election prompted the Clerk’s office to review the situation. Clerk’s staff made hundreds of phone calls to determine if absentee ballot applicants had been improperly "assisted" while voting. These phone calls led to allegations that Deganutti mailed a voter’s absentee ballot and observed another voter filling out the ballot. The Clerk’s office turned over its findings to the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Under the election code, an absentee ballot must be mailed by the voter, his or her spouse, parent, child, sibling or someone authorized by the election authority. In addition, a person cannot help a voter cast an absentee ballot unless the voter requests assistance. The individual who renders assistance must provide his or her name and address on the absentee ballot envelope.

Clerk Orr extends his thanks to State’s Attorney Dick Devine for his diligence in this case and to the prosecutors Assistant State’s Attorneys Mary Bucaro and Jean McGuire who won the conviction. The Clerk’s office continues to monitor absentee ballot applications and check for potential vote fraud.

"My office will pursue any improprieties and irregularities," said Orr, adding that on Election Day, staff closely watches areas that have encountered problems or where contests are especially heated.

Deganutti faces up to five years in prison when sentenced on Aug. 13 by criminal court judge Thomas Sumner.

For more information, call the Elections Department at (312) 603-0906.