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Election

ACLU of Illinois rips Kendall County Clerk for 'misleading' voter ID info

Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette
Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois criticized Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette Wednesday for what the organization calls "misleading" information about whether voters are required to provide state identification at the polls.

In a letter to Gillette, Amy Meek, staff attorney for the organization, stated that she was writing to "express serious concerns regarding your office's misleading and confusing instructions to voters (and, possibly, to poll workers) regarding identification ('ID') requirements."

Early voting begins Thursday, Sept. 27, at the County Clerk's Office, 111 W. Fox St., Yorkville.

In her letter, Meek asks Gillette to respond to her by Friday, Sept. 28, "with the steps that the Kendall County Clerk’s Office plans to take to remedy this issue."

Gillette, a Bristol Republican who faces Democrat Andrew Torres of Oswego on the Nov. 6 ballot, responded to the ACLU's concerns Wednesday afternoon, stating that election turnout has increased.

"Kendall County election results clearly show that voters have not been depressed, suppressed or disenfranchised," she wrote. "Election turnout has increased in Kendall County. In the general primary elections for the non-presidential years of 2014 and 2018 the results are 19 percent and 21 percent respectively. In the general election presidential election cycle years of 2012 and 2016 the results are 70 percent and 72 percent respectively."

In a statement on his campaign's Facebook page, Torres wrote that "all voters deserve a free and unobstructed right to vote."

"My campaign and I stand with the laws and voters of Illinois," Torres wrote. "We believe all voters deserve a free and unobstructed right to vote. When I am elected, I will ensure that all voters are treated equally and provided equal access to their protected right to vote."

Meek wrote in her letter to Gillette that Illinois law "generally does not require voters to present ID when they vote."

"At the polling place, voters typically need only state their name and address, provided they are on the precinct’s list of registered voters," Meek wrote. "In those few situations in which Illinois law permits an election judge to ask for ID, the law also provides that a voter who lacks ID be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. In short, no one should be denied the right to vote in Illinois because they lack identification."

However, Meek stated that information distributed by Gillette's office "suggests that voters must bring an ID in order to vote."

"Kendall County mailers, as well as the website, instruct voters to 'be prepared to present [appropriate] identification to the election judge' at their polling place," Meek wrote. "Phrasing instructions in this way can give the voter the impression that they will be turned away if they don’t have a photo ID."

Meek's letter stated that identification requirements impact certain voters.

"In addition to violating state law, voter identification requirements have a disproportionate and unfair impact on low-income, racial and ethnic minority voters, senior citizens, voters with disabilities and others who do not have a photo ID or the money to acquire one," Meek wrote. "Suggesting that voters need photo ID to vote creates additional hurdles that depress voter turnout and limit access to the polls."

In her letter, Meek also criticized Gillette for election judges allegedly turning away eligible voters at the polls.

"Finally, we have heard disturbing reports of election judges in Kendall County turning eligible voters away from the polls based on a lack of ID," Meek wrote. "If true, these reports indicate that poll workers do not understand the law in this area. The vast majority of voters should not be asked for ID. Those few who are required to have ID but do not must have an opportunity to cast a provisional ballot."

Meek requested in her letter that Gillette change the County Clerk's Office website and issue a corrected mailer without the voter ID language.

"With the start of early voting days away, you must immediately amend your website and issue a corrected mailer without the misleading instructions regarding voter ID," Meek wrote. "You must also provide additional training for Kendall County poll workers, to ensure that they do not turn away eligible voters due to a lack of ID. Otherwise, these violations put the County at risk for litigation under statutory and constitutional law."

In response to Meek, Gillette wrote a letter stating that voters in Kendall County "are not REQUIRED to show identification to vote."

"However, there are certain instances where state law does require a voter to present identification," Gillette wrote. "We simply want to make sure voters are prepared in the event that any of these situations arise."

Gillette noted that, for example, state law requires someone to show identification if it is their first time voting and they registered by mail. A voter must also show identification to confirm their identity if an election judge isn't satisfied their signature matches the one on their election registration card, according to the information cited by Gillette.

Gillette remarked that the statement on her office's materials does not mean voters are required to show ID or are turned away at the polls, and wrote that her office has never received a formal complaint about election judges requesting ID.

"Instructing voters to 'be prepared to present identification to the election judge' does not imply that they will be turned away from voting or is not intended to discourage or prevent individuals from voting," she wrote. "I have served as the Election Authority for the last 14 elections and we have not received a formal complaint regarding a judge requesting the voter provide identification outside of the purview of the law. With an average of 400 election judges serving at each election we feel that the training and notices we provide have conveyed that identification can only be asked to be provided in certain circumstances. The judges are also trained on the use of provisional voting."

Gillette wrote that her office held election judge training with the State Board of Elections on Sept. 24, and that the 300 judges in attendance "were told specifically from the representatives from the State Board of Elections that ID is not required and that they are not to ask for the voter to show ID unless there is a problem with their registration or they are registering to vote."

Gillette wrote to Meek that her office's information about voting and early voting in the county has been amended "per your request."

"When we hold additional training classes we will continue to instruct the election judges that ID is not required to vote," she wrote.

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