Alvarez launches criminal probe into robocalls to election judges

SHARE Alvarez launches criminal probe into robocalls to election judges

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office on Wednesday launched a criminal investigation into a barrage of weekend robocalls that gave false instructions to elections judges — a chaos-sowing endeavor that elections officials called “a serious attempt to disrupt” Chicago voting. “At this point, we’re just starting to take a look at it. There are no other real details to share at this time,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. “In all elections we have complaints and inquiries — this is one of several that we are looking into.” County prosecutors are also probing Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who appears to have violated election law by offering prizes to constituents to entice them to vote. Daly said Alvarez’s office also is investigating some other run-of-the-mill complaints but declined to offer specifics.  News of the robocall investigation comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanded Wednesday that the City Council hold hearings to determine who was responsible for the calls, which scared 2,000 Chicago election judges into failing to show up at their assigned polling places.Even after urging state and federal prosecutors to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the dirty trick, Emanuel wants Rules Committee hearings to determine who made the calls to election judges, who provided their names and phone numbers and whether the scheme was tailor-made to depress the Chicago vote.

The mysterious weekend calls informed election judges they would either have to attend yet another training session to qualify for Tuesday’s election or vote a certain way. Neither of those conditions was true.

“We all know that, had this been a municipal election, some people would assume certain things. . . . A lot of people would assume there was some underhanded ways dealing from the bottom of the deck here in Chicago,” Emanuel told aldermen from the rostrum at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“Given . . . that something happened only in the city of Chicago — not anywhere else in the state — we have an obligation . . . to uncover what happened, who sponsored it, how did they get the list, who paid for it and why. There’s nothing more important than the integrity of the democratic electoral process. . . . The names and phone numbers are out, acquired in some manner and somebody paid for those calls to create confusion throughout the city of Chicago.”

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, said if a Democratic ward boss had been responsible for a similar dirty trick, he or she would be sitting at the Dirksen Federal Building with a subpoena in their hands waiting to be marched into a federal grand jury.

“There’s enough smoke here to suggest there may indeed be a malicious fire set by some political operatives,” he said.

Emanuel used even harsher language in a statement released during the City Council meeting and at a news conference that followed the meeting.

The statement noted that “voter suppression or obstruction is a crime that cannot — and will not — be tolerated” in Chicago. It said those responsible must be swiftly identified and held accountable for their actions aimed at preventing Chicagoans from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

At the news conference, Emanuel said he was determined to find out who master-minded the scheme.

“Somebody obtained a list of names with phone numbers. Very specific. . . . None of you received that phone call. . . . Somebody called with the intent to create confusion — not to have a smooth-running process,” the mayor said.

“Who did it? How did they get the list? Who paid for it? We have to get to the bottom of that. There should be trust and confidence in the integrity of the democratic process as best expressed on election day. I’m not gonna jump to conclusions because that’s what the hearings are about. But I do know that it’s essential because, if it was part of an overall voter-suppression [by] sowing confusion, that’s wrong. Somebody must be identified. Or the party. And they must be held accountable.”

Separately, Emanuel said the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has some explaining to do about why it was caught with its pants down when it comes to implementing a new law that allowed voters to register and vote on the same day.

“Things collapsed,” at Welles Park and four other polling places, said Emanuel, who went there at the request of Gov. Pat Quinn’s office.

“Three voting booths for 800 people is totally inadequate. The Board of Elections, since this is the first time they did it, needs to do an after-action report and make recommendations of what they need to do to do it different because I do not believe that, if people are trying to vote, they should have to wait ’til 3 in the morning. That is unacceptable. We have a responsibility.”

During his visit to Welles Park, Emanuel said he told exasperated voters, including mothers with young children, “I want to commend you for your persistence. It should not be this way.”

He added, “What I can gather is, a lot of people [moved] in July or August and the information just didn’t get transferred. That’s unacceptable in a . . . time of technology. Totally unacceptable. And it’s unacceptable that you wait, starting for some people at 2:30 p.m., and they’re [still] there at 9:30 at night and all you have is three booths. So the board of elections has some homework. They need to be held accountable, then tell us what more needs to be done and we have to do it.”

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