ROCK ISLAND – A conservative group's decision not to identify itself on vote-by-mail applications, at least in part, led to the state Attorney General's investigation into how those applications have been turned in, a spokesperson for the AG's office stated.
Illinois Attorney General Communications Director Maura Possley said in an email to the Record, that the group Illinois Opportunity Project didn't include its name on the vote-by-mail applications it sent in on behalf of would-be Illinois voters in Tuesday's election.
"Because the Illinois Opportunity Project’s mailings do not identify that organization and, instead, are sent from '[Name of County] County Vote By Mail Center', they have led to voter confusion regarding whether they are official documents from the counties," Possley stated. "Additionally, complaints raised the specific concern that completed applications returned to the Illinois Opportunity Project’s '[Name of County] County Vote By Mail Center' post office box were not being picked up and delivered to the county clerk in a timely manner."
Possley's comments were in response to a story published over the weekend about Illinois Opportunity Project's claims that the state Attorney General's office was suppressing voter turnout and harassing the group's vote-by-mail program volunteers.
Those accusations were prompted by allegations of voter suppression by Illinois Democrats against the Illinois Opportunity Project.
In a separate email and text interview with the Record earlier today, Rock Island Democratic Party chair Doug House provided a bit more information about how he came by details about the vote-by-mail applications and the Attorney General's investigation. House was quoted by the Huffington Post last week that a preliminary analysis of absentee ballots processed by Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney on Oct. 27 showed the applications were mostly from Democrats and older voters.
House told the Record today that he received information from "senior Democrats" which he did not identify but whom he said had been among those who'd received absentee ballot requests submitted by the Illinois Opportunity Project. Their information was confirmed for him by Kankakee County Board Chairman Michael G. Bossert.
"Much of the determination that they were targeting Democrats is anecdotal," House said.
As the Attorney General's investigation got under way, it contacted officials in both political parties, in addition to other organizations, Possley stated.
"We also contacted the Illinois Opportunity Project because the complaints raised specific concerns about that organization’s vote by mail efforts and whether the applications were being delivered to county clerks," Possley stated.
Pat Hughes, co-founder of the Illinois Opportunity Project, backed up that group's allegations about that investigation with a detailed timeline of events and copies of an email exchange between the state Attorney General's office and the group's Washington-based attorney. Much of that was included in the Record story published Nov. 4.
Hughes is Illinois Opportunity Project co-founder of Illinois Opportunity Project and president of Liberty Justice Center, which is affiliated with Liberty Principles PAC, chaired by conservative radio talk show host, Dan Proft. The PAC has spent millions supporting conservative candidates this election season.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Huffington Post published its story that detailed allegations by Kinney that the Illinois Opportunity Project sat on 1,500 completed vote-by-mail applications until she contacted law enforcement to retrieve them from the conservative group's post office box. In the same report, Steve Brown, a spokesman for the Illinois Democratic Party, said that amounts to a voter suppression scheme.
“When you solicit absentee ballot applications and then sit on them, that’s about the only thing you can call it,” Brown said.
The Huffington Post article quoted the Rock Island Post Office postmaster who contradicted Brown's allegations, saying the applications did not "languish."
The state Attorney General's office has received a number of complaints regarding vote by mail ballot applications, Possley stated in an email to the Record.
"In response, we followed up to investigate all of the complaints and we are continuing that work in an effort to make sure that completed vote by mail applications have been delivered to county clerks and no voter is disenfranchised as a result of a problem with this process," Possley said. "We also worked with the State Board of Elections to issue a press release to urge voters to monitor the status of their vote by mail applications."
She also said that county clerks have stressed that the vote by mail process is very time sensitive because of the short time frame those offices have to process applications and mail ballots to voters in time for the ballots to be returned.
"Our concern has been and continues to be that all voters who choose to vote by mail have their votes counted," Possley said.