The Kankakee prosecutor on Tuesday announced an “unprecedented” investigation into allegations of “individuals from Chicago” offering gifts to residents in exchange for votes — only to have his office itself accused of harassing and intimidating voters.
The Kankakee County State’s Attorney’s Office said it opened the voter fraud investigation in response to allegations that “gifts” were given to voters in exchange for a vote for Democratic state Rep. Kate Cloonen, presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and “others.”
The state’s attorney’s office on Tuesday called the investigation an “unprecedented action,” saying it will also focus on the authenticity of vote-by-mail requests.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jamie Boyd, a Republican, said politics is “in no way involved in this.”
But union leaders and a Democratic former state representative turned the tables on the state’s attorney’s office, saying instead that, voters have been “harassed and intimidated” by local officials, including the state’s attorney’s office, sheriff’s office and county clerk.
Boyd said he would have no comment on any counter charges against him.
Boyd, who in March lost a Republican primary bid for a seat on the bench, said the vote buying wasn’t necessarily exclusive to Democratic votes: “Those are the ones that we were able to confirm. We’re hoping to find out what people are being told.”
Boyd said he couldn’t comment on what the gifts were or how many voters were targeted, pending the open investigation.
Boyd also said the mail ballot investigation was initiated because of “some red flags” that led his office to want to make sure those ballots were valid. He said he hopes voters who haven’t received their mail ballots will come forward.
And Boyd said he’s keeping “politics” out of this investigation.
“I have worked tirelessly and I believe successfully to keep politics out of the operation of this particular office, and I’m not going to let it come into it now just because it happens to involve an election,” Boyd said. “It’s part of my job and because I don’t let politics into this office, it’s in no way involved in this.”
Cloonen is the incumbent in a contested — and very expensive – Illinois House race against Republican Lindsay Parkhurst. Cloonen won her seat by just 122 votes in the 2014 election.
Parkhurst called the alleged voter fraud “deplorable.”
“These reports of voter fraud in Kankakee are incredibly disturbing. Fair and honest elections are the bedrock of our democracy. It is truly deplorable when people try to corrupt our system in this manner,” Parkhurst said in a statement. “I call on Kate Cloonen to denounce these actions and confirm to the public that no one affiliated with her campaign had any knowledge or involvement with these alleged crimes.”
But Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, called the investigation further “voter suppression” from [Gov. Bruce] Rauner’s Republican party.
“They’re doing everything they can … everything that you see in the courts, they’re everywhere,” Brown said, adding “they’ve been harassing people for weeks.”
GOP leaders dismissed that argument.
“Only a crooked Chicago political boss would cry foul when a state’s attorney takes action against voter fraud,” state Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said.
Responding to Boyd, Garr Ciaccio, president of AFSCME Local 29, Mike Smith, business manager of Laborers’ Local 751, and former State Rep. Lisa Dugan released a lengthy statement about the allegations, saying they noticed “illegal and unethical conduct by the Kankakee County State’s Attorney, Kankakee county clerk and the Kankakee county sheriff’s offices.” They said they notified the Illinois Attorney General’s office, the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Dept. of Justice “regarding the actions of those local officials.”
“We know many legally registered voters have been turned away from voting over the last few days. Since early voting for the 2016 general election began just a few short days ago, there have been numerous reports and eyewitness accounts of harassment and intimidation by local government officials of residents trying to participate in the democratic process of voting,” the group said in a statement.