Dems criticize clerk’s policy on mail-in registration

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten’s handling of the “grace period” of voter registration has drawn criticism from local Democrats. 

In a press conference Thursday morning, state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-52; state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103; and county clerk candidate and Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth, Ward 1, voiced their disagreement with the Republican’s policy of mailing voter registration documents to voters’ addresses instead of allowing voters to fill in all the necessary forms in person. This policy for grace period registration, or voter registration that occurs after the Oct. 9 deadline, gives county clerks discretion in how they register voters. 

Frerichs said he thinks Hulten’s policy of mailing registration forms instead of completing the process on-site is intended to prevent voter fraud, but it has made voting more difficult.

“I applaud efforts to stop voter fraud, but if suppressing voter fraud means for the very few cases that are out there, there will be scores of people turned away. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” Frerichs said.

Hulten, however, dismisses claims that his decision suppresses voting as “misinformation.” He said claims about the way he conducts the process are false because “we mail out the application and the ballot on the same day,” which he said is the same process he uses for all residents, even before the grace period.

“This is not about preventing voter fraud; it’s about treating someone who registers in October the same as someone who registers in July,” Hulten said.

Also in attendance was David Collier, a man from Maryland who recently moved to Urbana and was not allowed to register and vote same-day. Collier said he may have been “disenfranchised,” and he doesn’t understand why he has to receive and return documents through the mail with so little time left until Election Day. 

“The most frustrating thing is the extra steps,” Collier said after the conference. “I don’t know what (Hulten’s) reasoning is. I just know he’s making it very difficult on me.”

Hulten defends his registration record and said he has concerns of his own about the intentions of his critics, such as Smyth, who is running against Hulten.

“We had a voter registration drive that led to 144,000 registered voters in Champaign county, which broke the previous record by about 17,000, and we’ve opened early voting all over Champaign county, including one at the Illini Union,” he said. “It’s silly to say, five days before the election, that we’re trying to prevent people from voting. It’s just politics, and, frankly, it’s disgusting.” 

During the conference, Jakobsson and Frerichs announced their intent to pass legislation to fill what they claim is a “loophole” in Illinois election law that gives county clerks too much discretion in conducting grace period registration. The current process allows Illinois residents who missed the Oct. 9 voter registration deadline to register by Nov. 3.

“We do allow some flexibility in the law because of the diversity of our state, but I doubt the intention of that flexibility was to allow some county clerks to allow same-day voting and others to have to go back and forth through the mail,” Frerichs said.

After the conference, Smyth said allowing same-day voting would be one of his policies if elected, but Hulten was less specific.

“I agree with Frerichs and Jakobsson that we need to do something to fix the grace period law, and I look forward to working with them after the election,” Hulten said.

Matt can be reached at news@dailyillini.com.