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Illinois assesses damage from mistaken voter registrations

CHICAGO — At least three of 16 Illinois residents who cast ballots after being mistakenly registered to vote are U.S. citizens after all, election officials said Wednesday in assessing the damage caused by an error in the state’s automatic voter registration system.

Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, a key player in the system because it oversees driver’s licenses, said the data of 574 people who self-identified as noncitizens was mistakenly forwarded to elections officials to be registered to vote. Election officials said 545 of them were registered and 16 voted in 2018 and 2019 elections.

While those who checked a box on an electronic pad indicating they weren’t U.S. citizens should never have been registered, it turned out at least three from central Illinois counties are citizens. State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said it appeared another two — who have long voting histories — were also likely citizens. Elections officials suggested one explanation was that the registrants may have been confused during the process.

The error has left state officials to track down hundreds of people to determine who may still be eligible to vote and raised questions about the integrity of the system.

Illinois Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, attended a news conference Wednesday at the state capitol to call for a suspension of the program and for someone to be fired. State House Republicans have called for legislative hearings..

“This issue … is deeply concerning even to us at the federal level,” said Davis, who planned a congressional listening session on automatic voter registration. “We hope to get answers.”

Voter rights groups, which have criticized White’s office for a slow rollout of the multi-faceted automatic voter registration program, blamed the office for endangering noncitizens. The registrations were believed to involve green card holders, people who have legal permission to live in the country.

State and federal law bars noncitizens from voting.

“’We are deeply concerned that this careless and needless set of circumstances has put so many of our neighbours at risk,” said Lawrence Benito, head of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “While we want every Illinois resident to be engaged in civic life, we remind everyone who is not a citizen that even if they are registered by mistake, they cannot legally vote and can face deportation if they do.”

White’s spokesman, Dave Druker, said the office sent letters to all those affected taking ownership of the mistake. He said no one had been fired and there were no plans to put the program on hold.

“We’ve taken full responsibility for the error,” he said. “We think the automatic voter registration program is a good one.”

The registrations were for people who visited secretary of state offices between July 2018 and December 2019. Druker said the office discovered the error last month and contacted election officials. The office publicly acknowledged the error this week.

Over 150 registrations have been cancelled, election officials said.

Separately, Illinois allows immigrants living in the country without legal permission to get temporary drivers licenses through a different process not linked to voter registration.

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

Sophia Tareen, The Associated Press

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