- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2020

January 26, 2020

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Illinois Voter registration glitch a disaster

In theory, automatic voter registration is a wonderful idea.

Democracy is only as good as the number of people participating in it. Making it easier for voters to register should be a country-wide goal. It’s only through registration that we can get people involved in the process and raise some of those embarrassing voter participation numbers.

But the wonderful idea turns disastrous if it’s not properly implemented. That’s what’s happened in Illinois. Despite assurances it wouldn’t happen, an error in the system led to a possible 545 non-U.S. citizens being registered to vote.

Unquestionably, this outcome is unacceptable.

The automatic voter registration program went live on July 2, 2018. Eligible citizens were automatically registered to vote as they interacted with certain state offices. There is an opt-out option. In the next 17 months, as many as 574 people who identified themselves as non-U.S. citizens had their information forwarded to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Not all of those people are necessarily non-U.S. citizens. Sometimes a wrong box gets checked. But 545 of those registrations were finalized, and 16 cast ballots in 2018 and 2019 elections.

The office of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has since contacted those voters and told them not to vote. White’s office also said all 545 lawfully present in the United States, and the issue did not involve any undocumented immigrants.

Approximately 7.9 million voters are registered in Illinois, so the 19 ballots cast by the 16 ineligible voters doesn’t signify a widespread conspiracy of voter fraud. But that doesn’t mean elections might not have been swayed. Illegal votes were cast in Champaign, Christian, Cook, DuPage, Lee, Macon and Peoria counties and the city of Chicago.

Voters for Macon County sheriff know that race was decided by a single vote.

The Secretary of State’s office said the glitch was immediately corrected after its discovery on Dec. 13, 2019, but it failed to notify people it should have notified. Which people? For starters, the ones raising their voices loudest right now, specifically “Republicans - and one Democrat - demand answers,” as reported in a headline in the Chicago Sun Times. A letter of concern was sent to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan by five Republicans who serve on the House Executive Committee. Democratic Sen. Andy Manar said he might call for Senate hearings.

Also, the delay from the Secretary of State’s office is alarming. There should not have been any delay in making the error known as widely as possible. The instinct to make the correction and stay quiet is understandable. But when it comes to voter trust, too much in Illinois has been circumspect, and like it or not, the failure to communicate thoroughly about the issue – as well as the 17-month failure to catch the error – does nothing to battle the most pessimistic observers.

“Outrage” is a word too easily used these days. There’s an entire social media culture of outrage, people who live merely to be offended. Yet Illinois Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) was on the mark when he said, “The fact that the Secretary of State kept this a secret for 17 months is outrageous.” Caulkins added, “Protecting the integrity of our electoral process should have been a top priority. It’s obvious a better system needs to be put into place and it should start with not registering non-citizens to vote.”

There seems to be a reluctance in suspending the law. But that’s the best option. Faith can only be restored through transparency. With the March elections a mere seven weeks away, fixing the problem beyond doubts is a priority.


January 26, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Criminal Justice next for governor

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has announced that he’s backing an ambitious criminal-justice reform package he wants the General Assembly to pass this year.

The public will just have to take his word on that, because he’s publicly embraced only generalities while leaving the specifics for later.

He did, however, identify three areas of interest.

He wants to end the cash bail system, by which individuals charged with a crime may - or may not - be required to post a specific sum of money to be released from custody.

The bond is intended to serve as an incentive for the defendant to return to court for subsequent hearings. After the case is completed, bond money is returned to the defendant or their family.

Pritzker also indicated that he wants to change what he calls “low-level drug-crime sentencing” and reduce mandatory minimum sentences.

Readers will have to leave it to the imagination as to what constitutes “low-level drug crimes.” Is he talking about smoking methamphetamine? Or selling it?

Mandatory minimum sentences are imposed for those crimes the Legislature has decided are not subject to probation and require a prison sentence that fits within the statutory range.

For examples, class X felonies - serious crimes like armed violence and aggravated criminal sexual assault - require the sentencing judge to impose a sentence that fits within a range of six to 30 years.

Pritzker said, specifically, that he’s not talking about lowering sentences for violent crimes. But just because some crimes are not violent does not mean they are not serious.

After all, residential burglary is not a violent crime, although it can become one. But those who commit one residential burglary after another are serious offenders.

Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton recently held a news conference to discuss their proposals. They stem from recommendations put forth by a task force headed by Stratton.

The task force’s goals suggest a broad and aggressive agenda, one that revisits some of the same social issues that have bedeviled society for decades.

“Justice reform is about striving to make equity and economic opportunity a reality for every community and every Illinoisan, because we simply cannot have justice without equity and opportunity,” Stratton said.

She is mixing apples and oranges - criminal justice, family collapse and poverty with economic opportunity. But it’s good to see Pritzker and Stratton embrace the concept of improving the state’s economy, because doing so would produce a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Illinois has a well-deserved reputation as a state with a business climate that is hostile to job creators. If this state is to provide more opportunities to its citizens, particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder, it has to get serious about making the changes needed to make this state a place where businesses wish to locate and/or expand. Some people may not wish to acknowledge it, but without employers, there are no employees.

As a general proposition, Pritzker is suggesting that there are too many people in prison who ought not be there or ought to be serving shorter sentences. He’s also arguing that too many people arrested by police go through the criminal-justice system instead of being diverted into social programs that will put them on the right direction.

Indeed, the whole notion of eliminating cash bond is predicated on the idea that judges are setting bonds for defendants who deserved to be released on their own recognizance.

There may be merit to the general criticism. In a system as large as this state’s - covering 102 counties with 12.5 million people - there’s a lot of opportunity for prosecutors and judges to make judgments that are subject to challenge.

But the fact is that criminal defendants routinely are released on their own recognizance. Bond is required generally only for problematic defendants; the more serious the crime, the higher the bond.

At the same time, prosecutors routinely forego formal prosecutions of some defendants, funneling them into diversion programs that allow them to demonstrate that prosecution is not required. As for those sentenced to prison, it’s also routine for them to be repeat offenders who have already failed on their second and sometimes third chances.

The point is that the whole business is hideously complex and based on many different social factors and individual predispositions.

In that context, Pritzker is taking on tough issues that don’t lend themselves to easy or ideological solutions. Of course, he hasn’t yet identified what his proposed solutions are to these three areas of interest. When he does, they will require serious scrutiny by those with vast knowledge of all aspects of the issues.


January 25, 2020

The (Freeport) Journal-Standard

Know what you need before you go to get Real ID

If you want to fly anywhere in the United States – or visit a secure federal facility after Oct. 1 and don’t want to carry your passport — you need to get a REAL ID from your nearest full-service Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

That’s it – fly or visit a secure federal facility. If you don’t plan to do either of those things, your regular Illinois driver’s license is just fine and you don’t have to worry about updating your current license.

Another point of emphasis: It has to be a full-service facility such as the East State office in Rockford or the offices in Belvidere and Freeport. Express facilities in Roscoe and on Auburn Street in Rockford can’t help with REAL ID.

The REAL ID Act — which was motivated by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, whose perpetrators had legitimate driver’s licenses — was passed in 2005 and was supposed to be implemented in 2008, but states needed time – and a way to finance the change – before it took effect.

The goal of REAL ID was to standardize disparate licensing rules and make it more difficult to get a fake license.

So far about 660,000 Illinoisans have been issued REAL IDs. A REAL ID in Illinois is a new drivers’ license with a gold star in the upper right and, just like getting a gold star in school, it requires a bit of work.

For a REAL ID, you need:

• One document that shows your full legal name, like a certified birth certificate copy or U.S. passport.

• One document that proves your social security number, like a social security card or W-2 form.

• Two different documents that prove Illinois residency, like a utility bill, canceled check or pay stub.

• One document with a proof of written signature, like a current Illinois or out-of-state license.

Married women have it more difficult if they took their husband’s surname. If they have a passport, they’re in good shape. If not, they need a birth certificate and a marriage certificate to show the name change. Women who have been married more than once will need certified documentation for each name change.

Also, if utility bills are in the husband’s name, women can use a credit card or bank statement or a voter registration card. Remember, two forms need to show proof of residency.

The process takes about 25 minutes. You start at “Information” where you explain why you’re there and show you have the right papers. You’re given a number and sent over to get your picture taken. When your number is called, your information is typed into the system and your documents are processed by a helpful person behind the counter. Remember, driver’s license facilities tend to have quite a bit of walk-in traffic and usually there are lines. We suggest you set aside at least an hour.

It’s essential that you have the right documents. You don’t want to make a return trip because you were missing the proper paperwork. The person at information will direct you accordingly.

You need to have printed documents. You can’t just show a copy of a bill on your phone or tablet. REAL ID is a federal requirement and documents need to be scanned into the system.

If you have any doubts about whether you have what you need before you make the trek to a facility, go online to REALID.ilsos.gov. You will find an interactive checklist that will make applying for REAL ID easier.

REAL ID essentially is free. If you need to renew your driver’s license, the cost is $30 whether you get REAL ID or not. If you recently renewed and want that gold star, the cost is $5. Seniors 65 and older get the corrected license free. Your Real ID will retain the same expiration date as your original license.

You can wait until your driver’s license expires and save yourself $5 and a trip to a driver’s license facility. The Secretary of State’s Office will continue to issue REAL IDs after Oct. 1. There’s no urgency to make a change unless you want to fly after Oct. 1 and don’t want to carry your passport.

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