Close Illinois governor race spurs vote vigilance
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- In the run-up to what could be the closest governor race in Illinois history, Republicans and Democrats are doing all they can to ensure friendly voters cast every possible ballot and their opponents not one extra.
As Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and GOP businessman Bruce Rauner mounted their last get-out-the-vote rallies, the state Republican Party began raising red flags about alleged voting irregularities -- lodging complaints about everything from improperly calibrated voting machines in Rock Island to a Chicago alderwoman offering raffle prizes as an incentive to vote.
Whether those challenges spill into Tuesday, over individual ballots, could determine how quickly the governor's race is decided. Add a legal opinion from Attorney General Lisa Madigan that election authorities can't begin tabulating early votes until the polls close and it could be a recipe for a long night that pushes into Wednesday.
Rupert Borgsmiller, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, said he's noticed a lot more interest in citizens observing the electoral process before Election Day, including in-person early voting and the processing of mailed-in ballots.
"A lot of it's being driven by the parties," Borgsmiller said. "They pursue their constituency, and they want to ensure that people who aren't entitled to vote don't vote."
Republicans see Tuesday as a chance to reclaim the governor's office for the first time in more than a decade. Democrats are worried about a less-than-enthusiastic electorate in a midterm race, keenly aware that Quinn won in 2010 by just 32,000 votes out of 3.7 million cast. That's a margin only wider than the 5,074 votes with which former GOP Gov. James Thompson claimed victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson III in 1982.
Republicans boasted of mounting an unprecedented "voter integrity" project this year, including recruiting 5,000 election-day judges and observers in Democrat-heavy Chicago. Election officials say the effort fell slightly short, but GOP officials believe the party balance is better than years past.
"This election is too important to accept anything less than a 100 percent fair, honest, and open election," party spokesman Andrew Wellhouse said.
The GOP's efforts continued Friday when party officials in Rock Island County filed their second lawsuit in a week, this one asserting that voting machines were automatically switching GOP votes to opposing Democrats. A hearing is scheduled for Monday and the GOP is asking that every touch-screen machine in the county be recalibrated in front of witnesses from both parties.
Cook County officials are looking into a Republican complaint that Chicago Alderwoman Leslie Hairston offered a drawing for gift cards to those who show they voted. She rescinded the offer when questioned about it, saying she had no intention of buying votes. They're also asking the attorney general to investigate a get-out-the-vote rally by Pike County Democrats that appeared to offer door prizes.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who's up for re-election against Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis, said Democrats anticipated the uptick in Republican activity and "have a similar effort underway on the Democratic side."
That includes volunteers and operatives visiting polling places to watch for any efforts to discourage voting, Durbin spokesman Ron Holmes said. He added it also includes training sessions to bone up on election law for lawyers who volunteered, "the first time that there's been such a wide net in terms of top-to-bottom" poll watching.
Whether it all translates into increased ballot challenges Tuesday remains to be seen. A voter whose qualifications are challenged can still vote provisionally, with his or her ballot sealed in a separate box and the vote counted after the election authority determines whether he's eligible, within two weeks of the election.
Madigan's opinion also could impede speedy results. Two weeks ago, she interpreted state law to say that no vote-counting could begin until polls close at 7 p.m., including the regular practice of inserting of mail-in votes through "tabulating" machines that local officials say merely prepares them for later counting.
In the state's largest jurisdictions, including Chicago and DuPage County, authorities have been seeking Madigan's explicit permission to run the tabulating machines, warning that waiting could mean the counting goes well into Wednesday, or even longer.
On the other hand, Borgsmiller said the vote count could be accelerated this year because of a spike in early- and mail-in voting. That could mean shorter lines on Election Day itself.