Mail ballots identifying voters by party sent out in Madison County
The county clerk said it was a mistake, and that safeguards are in place to ensure ballots are handled properly and counted, regardless of party affiliation.
When election judges open vote by mail ballots in Madison County, they will know whether the voter is a Republican or a Democrat.
“Some people are concerned I’d throw certain ballots in the river,” said Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza. “We don’t even have a river in Edwardsville. And I take that personally.”
Republicans said it was an issue that deserved an immediate fix.
Ming-Mendoza said the label with a voter’s name has an “R” or “D” printed on it. The labels are on the inner, certification envelopes that contain ballots from mail-in voters.
She said it was a mistake. When the county printed 60,000 labels, half for the outer envelopes were fine but the other half for the inner envelopes in which ballots are contained used the voters’ labels from the primary election list. Voters declare political affiliation in Illinois primaries and receive ballots for that party, but affiliation is not supposed to factor in to the general election.
Ming-Mendoza said there are no conspiracies. She is a Democrat, but said both Republican and Democratic election judges are on hand when envelopes are opened. She said the party affiliation is being redacted.
Ray Wesley, chairman of Madison County’s Republican Party, said party members are overseeing the process in the county clerk’s office and will work to ensure no ballots are illegally discarded.
“This incident shows just how easily mistakes can be made and why we are vehemently opposed to mass mail-in voting,” Wesley said. “It opens up unnecessary potential for fraud.”
Illinois House Republicans said Ming-Mendoza’a error “eliminates the secrecy voters expect when casting a ballot.” They said no more of the tainted ballots should be mailed out, especially in a county with so many competitive races where voters deserved full confidence in the election’s integrity.
There are around 185,000 active voters in Madison County and nearly 32,000 ballots have been mailed to voters, with nearly 3,700 of them returned as of Oct. 5, the Illinois State Board of Elections reported. Statewide, there are 8.17 million active voters and 2 million ballots have been mailed, with more than 136,500 returned.
Ming-Mendoza said voters have been concerned about their ballots making it through the mail to her office. She is encouraging those concerned to bring their ballots to the drop box at the county building in Edwardsville or surrender their mail ballots and vote in person. She said the drop box is chained to the county building steps and under 24-hour surveillance.
Illinois state lawmakers during the summer expanded the vote by mail system in Illinois in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, so as many as 5 million voters could avoid potential contact and infection. Voters at four Chicago polling places later tested positive for COVID-19, and one poll worker died after exposure during the primary election March 17. The expanded mail voting system expires after 2020.
Republican state lawmakers were against the law over fraud concerns, but Democratic majorities passed it and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it after criticism that he locked down businesses yet allowed in-person voting to progress.
Voting by mail has become a partisan issue nationally, with Democrats 30 percentage points more likely to vote by mail than Republicans in three states polled. Traditionally there has not been a partisan divide on the issue, and there is conflicting information about whether it helps or hurts either party.
The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 29, meaning the local election authority must receive the request by that date. Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and received within 14 days of that date to be counted in the election.
More information about Illinois’ expanded mail voting system and rules can be found here.