Federal judge rejects Cook County GOP’s attempt to block new vote-by-mail rules

U.S. District Judge Robert Dow ruled that the claims made by the Cook County Republicans amounted to “legislative policy disagreements and unsupported speculation about potential criminal conduct.”

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A woman mails an envelope in Hyde Park on Wednesday. As of Wednesday, 1.45 million Illinois voters applied to vote by mail — 50,000 of them since Tuesday.

A federal judge on Thursday shot down the Cook County Republican Party’s effort to block the state’s expanded vote-by-mail program.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo

A federal judge on Thursday shot down the Cook County Republican Party’s effort to block the state’s expanded vote-by-mail program, which GOP officials described as a “partisan scheme” that could result in voter fraud.

But U.S. District Judge Robert Dow ruled that the claims made by the Cook County Republicans amounted to “legislative policy disagreements and unsupported speculation about potential criminal conduct.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the expanded vote-by-mail rules into law in June, a month after lawmakers voted to adopt a series of considerations to manage a November election that will undoubtedly be affected by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the new rules allowed for the creation of collection sites for mail-in ballots without postage and made Election Day a holiday for state workers.

The lawsuit, filed in August in the Northern District of Illinois, named Pritzker, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough and members of both the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

The suit alleged that the changes enabled “ballot harvesting,” which the Cook County Republicans described as “the practice by which paid, political operatives collect ballots from voters and return them to the election authority.” They claimed this would enable a partisan agent to collect ballots but only turn over those belonging to Democrats.

Dow rejected that central argument in his ruling, saying the claim “rests on a misreading” of the changes made in May and deals with portions of the state election law that weren’t altered then.

“The Election Code does not permit just anyone to return the voter’s ballot,” Dow wrote. “And it certainly does not permit anyone to systematically collect but fail to submit Republican ballots.”

An attorney for the Cook County Republican Party couldn’t immediately be reached. Neither could a spokesman for the governor’s office.

But when the suit was filed in August, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh described the suit as “a desperate political attempt to suppress the vote.”

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