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updated: 10/14/2010 5:42 PM

Is absentee ballot issue being spun?

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By Kerry Lester

Illinois has joined the roster of states being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for missing a deadline to mail absentee ballots to members of the military and overseas voters.

Republican Party officials are up in arms over the issue, calling Thursday for a ballot deadline extension to ensure those ballots are counted.

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But suburban election officials aren't worried. They say the problem may be getting blown out of proportion by party politics.

Absentee ballots in Illinois can be counted until two full weeks after the election.

And ballots aren't just sent through traditional mail anymore they can be e-mailed and faxed, too.

"As long as they're postmarked by Nov. 1, we count them all the way up until Nov. 16, said Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr's office. "The risk is pretty low that their ballots wouldn't be counted.

Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady, of St. Charles, who held a Chicago news conference Thursday over the issue, called Greve's response "troubling.

"In this state we have a history of this kind of shenanigans, he said.

According to the 2009 federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, states must mail absentee ballots 45 days in advance of Election Day or by Sept. 18 to overseas troops and other Americans who wish to vote from abroad.

The 110 different election boards across the state are tasked with sending those ballots out, either through regular mail, e-mail or fax.

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochil Hinojosa was unable to quantify how many of the election jurisdictions in the state may not have complied with the deadline.

State Board of Elections Director Dan White did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

"The department is working with all states, including Illinois, to investigate and remedy problems that will prevent our men and women serving overseas from having the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted, Hinojosa said in an statement.

Brady said the Illinois GOP, which filed Freedom of Information Act requests with each of the 110 election boards, believes at least 26 missed the deadline.

Another 21 counties, including Kane County Brady's home county did not respond to the justice department's request, he said. Kane County election officials could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

According to the GOP's spreadsheet of election boards' compliance, each suburban county with the exception of Kane Cook, DuPage, McHenry and Lake was in compliance with the deadline.

DuPage County Board of Elections Director Robert Saar said his department is "very proactive with those in the military. We're communicating with them all the time.

Like Greve, he noted Illinois' step to lengthen the amount of time absentee ballots are counted should help the situation, even if ballots are received late.

"We're careful about hitting deadlines here. Obviously it's a story that matters, but I've sort of moved onto other things.

Cook County sent out 538 absentee ballots by the Sept. 18 deadline and DuPage sent 1,559, according to the GOP's figures.

The Illinois governor's race and the U.S. Senate race, among others, are expected to be very close, so even a few hundred absentee votes could make a difference.

Republican candidate for Governor Bill Brady and Senate candidate Mark Kirk issued statements decrying the issue.

So did Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, though at the same time claiming his opponent was "trying to exploit a serious political situation for political gain.

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