Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday took a strong stance against Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Russian agents” who may have hacked into the state’s election system — saying they are “not friends” of the U.S. — but the governor stopped short of signing a measure Illinois Democrats claimed would protect voters from being hacked.
The governor said he was “deeply troubled” by some of President Donald Trump’s comments that suggested he trusted Putin’s denials of election interference over the conclusions of U.S. intelligence officials — remarks that Trump tried to walk back on Tuesday.
“It’s very clear that Russian agents hacked election systems in 22 states, including the state of Illinois,” Rauner said. “All indications are that the Russians are behind that and I hope the president will stand with us against the Russians.”
Rauner drew fire from Democrats, however, with his veto of a state Senate bill that would have withdrawn Illinois from the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is meant to identify duplicate voter registrations across state lines. The state uses both Crosscheck and the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC.
“There is no need to codify such a limitation in state law and hamstring Illinois’ efforts to combat voter fraud when other safeguards are available to ensure the security, reliability, and appropriate use of any data being shared,” Rauner wrote in his veto message.
Democrats renewed their calls for the governor to sign the bill in light of news last week that the Illinois State Board of Elections believed their agency “very likely” was the target of a hack of voter data referred to in an indictment of Russian intelligence officers.
The indictment, part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, alleges that two officers of the Kremlin’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) stole personal data from around half a million voters from an unnamed state board of elections.
Based on information in the indictment, Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said that officials believed the Illinois agency is the one identified in the indictment only as SBOE 1.
Democrats argued that the Crosscheck system has been used to illegally eject valid voters from voting rolls for sharing a name with an out-of-state voter.
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“This hurts minority communities most, as we are more likely to share last names,” state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, said in a statement after the veto. “In another state, the Crosscheck system flagged one of out every six Latino voters and over 99 percent of flagged names turned out to be perfectly legal registered votes. This veto is an assault on minority voting rights.”
Democratic candidate for attorney general State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he could only “suppose that the governor’s veto was politically motivated, as this piece of legislation is a sensible way to protect voter information.”
And Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker accused Rauner of “standing on the sidelines while our state faces relentless attacks.”
“We can’t risk Russians having access to sensitive voter data and we can’t trust Donald Trump to keep us safe as he cozies up to Vladimir Putin and displays contempt for American intelligence,” Pritzker said in a statement.”
Speaking to reporters in Springfield on Tuesday, Rauner said Democratic concerns over the Crosscheck system are “more politically motivated” and not based on “security issues.”
“I think for various political reasons, or whatever, people try to tie the Crosscheck work with security. They’re not related. One doesn’t impact the other and as I’ve indicated in the past, I believe it’s good and worthwhile for Illinois to part of the Crosscheck system,” Rauner said.
After a summit Monday summit in Helsinki alongside Putin, Trump questioned American intelligence and the federal indictment that accused Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. On Tuesday, Trump corrected that statement, saying he intended to say “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”
Trump on Tuesday acknowledged that he accepts that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election, and he denied any “collusion” from his campaign. He also said “could be other people also.”
Speaking in Downstate Collinsville, Rauner said “Putin and those Russian agents are not friends of the United States of America,” Rauner said in Collinsville.
Contributing: Associated Press