County clerk candidate calls incumbent's claim over ballot supervision at residential facilities a ‘fabrication’

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Nov 2, 2018

Republican candidate Steve Adler said the Madison County clerk’s assertion that election judges supervise the voting process for Beverly Farm residents is a “fabrication.”

“These actions are the result of what happens when the needs of the ethically challenged collide with intellectually challenged individuals,” Adler said. 

County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza, incumbent Democrat, stressed that Republican and Democrat election judges go to residential care facilities to help people vote in response to a campaign video for Adler that raised concerns over voting practices for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

In the campaign video, Becky Unnerstall, of Alton, says she felt her Uncle Mike Littleton was being used after she learned that he had been voting from a Godfrey residential facility that cares for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Adler said he has “personally witnessed” AFSCME employees filling out ballots for Beverly Farm residents. 

“When challenged, these election judges state they would call police if we objected.

“And it’s wrong on several different levels,” Adler said. 

Adler obtained pre-election requests for Madison County residents for the 2014 General Election through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents show information such as who requested an absentee ballot, whether or not they were assisted and by whom, their address and precinct, their party and the returned status.

“As you can clearly see: all the Beverly Farm addresses, including Mike Littleton … were assisted by no one,” he wrote in an email. 

Littleton has resided at Beverly Farm for 28 years. His voting records show he has voted in five elections since 2008. 

In the video, Littleton, whose cognitive skills are limited, says “no” when asked if he has ever voted. When asked if he knew who the president was, he answered “God.”

At the end of the video, Adler says that residents are promised “I voted” stickers and “employees vote for the patients.”

In response to the video, Ming-Mendoza had told the Record the law requires her to send a letter before the election to administrators of residential care facilities with a list of registered voters asking if they are still residents and if they wish to vote in the upcoming election.

After getting a list, her office begins the process of preparing the ballots. 

She said that while voting, someone sits with residents and the entire ballot is read. If the resident does not want to vote in a certain race or is unable to make a selection, the next item on the ballot is read. After the process is complete, the ballot is placed in an envelope for processing. 

County Administrator Doug Hulme raised concerns about the assistance residents at facilities like Beverly Farms receive or do not receive.

“We all agree. This kind of voting has been a problem,” he said

“Now, two election judges assisted him … isn’t that a coincidence!” Doug Hulme added in reference to Littleton’s voting history.

Pat Hulme, who is a long-time election judge and poll watcher, said there is a concern that residents at care facilities may not understand the ballots or what they are voting for without the aid of someone else as well as concern that those same assistants could influence the vote or fill out the ballot for them. 

While she could not personally verify and has not witnessed any illegal voting practices in residential facilities, the concern is still there.  

“We’re really concerned about the practices we are not able to see,” she said. 

She added that the general worry is “how many people have ballots listed under their name and they did not vote at all?”

Instead, she said someone with a political agenda could vote for them. This is a bigger concern for larger facilities with more people, which could change the outcome of an election. 

Pat Hulme added that residents can be assisted while voting as long as the assistant does not hold a position of power over the voter, which is a concern with residential facilities where the staff have power over residents. 

“We just have to do a good job of assisting people if they want,” she said. 

Pat Hulme questioned where the residents’ guardians are and why they aren’t assisting them in the election process. She also questioned whether the residents are being misused for the benefit of someone else. 

Pat Hulme said disproportionate political power in Madison County could threaten fair elections.

“As long as one political party maintains most of the power, as well as all the checks and balances, citizens are going to very very strongly feel their electoral system is at risk. And for many of us, free and fair elections is right at the top of the list with freedom of speech,” she said. 

Pat Hulme explained that election judges are assigned a site to oversee after going through training and passing a number of tests. 

Illinois law provides the number of election judges required at each site, but there must be at least one Republican and one Democrat election judge present. 

An election judge’s party affiliation is determined based on which ballot they requested during the primary election. 

Pat Hulme urged people to become poll watchers to ensure that rule are followed. 

“As concerned citizens, we need to step up more and offer to be poll watchers to facilitate the good system,” she said. 

Anyone can be a poll watcher after getting authorization from the county clerk’s office. Poll watchers are allowed in the polling place sat the same time as election judges, can go wherever an election judge goes and can watch as ballots are counted. However, poll watchers are not allowed to touch election equipment or ballots. 

Pat Hulme said some poll watchers are paid to keep an eye on the polling process, which is more common with the Democrat Party. She said the Republican Party doesn’t generally pay poll watchers.  

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