Orr issues absentee warning

January 31, 2005
Press Release

Cook County Clerk David Orr issued a warning to local political and campaign workers involved in the Feb. 22 primary election not to abuse absentee voting laws or illegally influence voters.

Orr’s office will closely examine voter applications to ensure voters meet the requirements to vote absentee and make sure that overzealous political workers do not manipulate voting.

"Political workers who take advantage of voters and make up their own rules without the interest of democracy in mind will not be tolerated," said Orr, whose office has sent letters to all 60 suburban committeeman and all candidates running in the primary. "I want to make sure that only honest votes are cast and only honest votes are counted."

Qualified voters in the 501 suburban Cook County precincts conducting primaries can now request to vote absentee in the Feb. 22 primary. Primary elections will take place in Berwyn, Calumet City, Cicero, Elgin, Hoffmann Estates, Maine Township, Palatine and Schaumburg Township. All suburban precincts will conduct elections on April 5.

Residents should return their completed absentee applications — no later than Thursday, Feb. 17 — to the Cook County Clerk’s downtown office, which will determine if a voter is eligible to receive a mail-in absentee ballot.

Voted mail-in absentee ballots can be mailed or delivered to the Clerk’s downtown office and must be received by the closing of the polls on Election Day (7 p.m. Feb. 22).

Under Illinois law, registered voters are eligible to cast an absentee ballot in person or by mail only if they are unable to make it to their polling place on Election Day. They must meet specific legal requirements (see attached). The most common reasons involve voters who will by out the county on Election Day or who are physically incapacitated.

In addition, except for a close relative or someone from an authorized messenger service, no one else should ever take possession of a voted mail-in absentee ballot to deliver or to mail.

No one may illegally help voters make selections. Voters who are blind, physically disabled or unable to read or write English may allow a friend or close relative to provide assistance in voting their mail-in ballot after receiving it from the Clerk’s office. Both the voter and individual providing assistance under the direction of the voter must complete and sign the ballot envelope.

Orr’s office will closely track absentee balloting on a daily basis leading up to the election. The Clerk’s office will: look for high concentrations or unusual increases in absentee ballot requests in particular areas; scrutinize applications to ensure that signatures on absentee ballot applications match original voter registration signatures; and search for duplicate applications.

The Clerk’s office will also interview voters who apply for absentee ballots to confirm they properly requested an absentee ballot and made selections on their own. Staff will also check with absentee voters to ensure they need to vote absentee and remind them not to allow a third party to handle them.

Orr has set up a voter fraud hotline – (312) 603-0909 – for voters to report any allegations of vote fraud.

The Clerk’s office will forward all evidence of possible absentee ballot misconduct to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which will investigate further and consider criminal charges. Third parties that handle the ballot or manipulate voting could face felony charges.

Orr believes that most political workers, precinct captains and campaign volunteers play by the rules and does not suspect illegal activity involving absentee balloting is widespread. However, more is at stake for local political organizations during odd-year local elections when turf battles commonly escalate.

Although most absentee voting is conducted cleanly and honestly, illegal absentee balloting has marred a few recent local elections:

In September 2003, a Cook County judge overturned a special election for the Calumet City mayor that took place earlier in the year after he disqualified absentee ballots that a political worker mailed or delivered to the Clerk’s office.

In March 2003, Orr’s office cancelled more than 250 requests for absentee ballots in Cicero and Chicago Heights after learning voters who applied for absentee ballots did not legally qualify to receive them.

In October 2002, a Cicero precinct captain was sentenced to 18 months probation after she was convicted on four counts of vote fraud for manipulating votes and taking voted absentee ballots to mail them before the March 2000 primary.

To request a mail-in absentee ballot application, qualified registered voters can:

print an application from the Clerk’s election website, www.voterinfonet.com. For more information, visit the absentee page.

call to request one from the Clerk’s office at (312) 603-0906.

write or visit the Clerk’s office, 69 W. Washington St., Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60602.

Individuals who registered to vote using a mail-in registration form are not eligible to vote absentee by mail the first time they vote. If they need to vote absentee, they must vote in-person absentee.

In-person absentee voting will begin Jan. 31 and end Feb. 21. Eligible voters can cast ballots at participating village and township clerk’s offices or at the County Clerk’s downtown office (69 W. Washington St.). Voters should call Orr’s office at (312) 603-1122 for downtown hours, or their local village or township clerk for availability, times and locations.