Pritzker wants probe — not ‘pointing fingers’ — into voter registration of non-citizens

Pritzker on Wednesday joined those calling for hearings, but he stopped short of blaming White, a political ally: “Look, I don’t think we need to be pointing fingers at anybody about blame.”

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Then Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker campaigns with Secretary of State Jesse White and Pritzker’s running mate Juliana Stratton in 2018.

Then Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, center, campaigns with Secretary of State Jesse White, left, and Pritzker’s running mate Juliana Stratton, right, at Mannys Deli on Election Day, November 6, 2018. File Photo.

Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Illinois politicians promised the automatic voter registration system would not lead to non-citizens voting, but it now looks like they were wrong.

And Gov. J.B. Pritzker is calling for an investigation into how it happened after 543 self-identified non-citizens were registered to vote through the state’s automatic voter registration system.

As many as 14 non-citizens appear to have cast ballots in elections, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

The agency is still investigating whether some of the 14 who voted are actually U.S. citizens. At least two voted in previous elections before the automatic voter registration system came into effect. And two of the 545 people initially reported as having been registered to vote despite checking “no” on the driver’s license application citizenship question actually turned out to be citizens, a board spokesman said.

The embarrassing revelations this week prompted a series of politicians to demand answers.

Republican lawmakers led the way, calling for hearings in the General Assembly. They singled out Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, saying they wanted “to hear testimony directly” from the Near North Side Democrat whose office administers the automatic voter registration system.

Pritzker on Wednesday joined those calling for hearings, but he stopped short of blaming White, a political ally.

“Look, I don’t think we need to be pointing fingers at anybody about blame, I think it’s just — look we have to get it right,” Pritzker told reporters at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood, where he announced $4.25 million in additional funding for an early childhood welfare program.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, left, stands with Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker in 2018. File Photo.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, left, stands with Democratic candidate for governor J.B. Pritzker in 2018 as Pritzker apologizes for a decade-old conversation with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in which Pritzker pitched White as the “least offensive” African American choice to fill then President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat. File Photo.

Marcus DiPaola/Sun-Times

Rather than singling out White, Pritzker talked about how obsolete the state’s computer network is, speculating it could be the culprit for the glitch that led to the registration of non-citizens to vote.

“You know, there are parts of our systems that are held together with chewing gum and rubber bands,” Pritzker said.

Some Republican lawmakers have called for a temporary suspension of the automatic voter registration system.

“This is a major problem that needs to be resolved immediately,” state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond said in a statement. “The Automatic Voter Registration program should be suspended until comprehensive reforms and safeguards are put in place, even if it requires action by the General Assembly.”

Illinois Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond. File Photo.

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State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who chairs the House Executive Committee, said he wants a hearing into the matter, but did not go as so far as to call for a suspension for the automatic voter registration system.

“As any mistakes affecting voter registration are very serious, I am calling representatives from the Secretary of State’s office to come before the House Executive Committee next week in order to provide legislators with answers on how this occurred and clarify what steps are being taken to ensure it will never happen

Pritzker dismissed the idea of suspending the program, saying he does not have the authority to do so.

In 2017, the General Assembly unanimously passed a bill to provide for automatic voter registration in the state. Under the new law, people who apply or renew their driver’s licenses are automatically registered to vote. The secretary of state’s office, which handles driver’s license applications and renewals, shares a database with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Pritzker on Wednesday also weighed in on the contentious race for Senate president, telling reporters that Democratic senators must come together after the bitter contest.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, has told the Sun-Times that she lost the race to lead the chamber because of a personal 11-year-old grudge held by former Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and his son, state Sen. Emil Jones III. Lightford accused the younger Jones of serving as a double-agent pretending to support her candidacy, but actually backing state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who ultimately won the battle.

Pritzker said Democrats must move on.

“We need to make sure that the, you know, the rivalries or bitterness that may have existed as a result of the election— that we get past that so we can get the job done,” Pritzker said.

Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, shakes hands with Gov. J.B. Pritzker as he prepares to take the oath as Senate president on Jan. 19.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, center, greets state Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as Harmon prepares to take the oath to become the Senate president on Sunday. File Photo.

.Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

On Tuesday, former Senate President John Cullerton told the Sun-Times that he has counseled Harmon on how to unify his caucus in the wake of the flap.

“When you have a race, an intramural fight, you got to immediately heal the wounds,” Cullerton said.

Cullerton officially left office Monday, after over 40 years in the General Assembly, and a decade as Senate president. Like Harmon, Cullerton came to power after a hotly contested race, beating out state Sen. James Clayborne Jr.

Cullerton’s predecessor, Emil Jones Jr., actively pushed for Clayborne Jr. to be his successor.Cullerton said memories of that rancor led him to stay out of the succession battle this time.

He urged Harmon to work to heal the wounds.

“He’s got to reach out to the people who didn’t vote for him, and work on them more than even the people who supported him,” Cullerton said.


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