Officials scramble to send out vote-by-mail ballots

October 27, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Depending on who you talk to, the issue either has the potential to become Illinois' version of the ballot fiasco they had in Florida in 2000 or it is no big deal and being overblown to scare voters.

By any measure there is a problem that started after Illinois passed a new, vote-by-mail law.

"What a mess. It's almost like the Three Stooges were planning this get-out-the-vote absentee registration drive. It's a scrambled up disaster. Hopefully we will get it unscrambled a little bit," said Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign For Political Reform.

The scramble started in the Illinois General Assembly late last year when a vote-by-mail law passed for the first time.

Then this summer, in another piece of election legislation, lawmakers approved allowing anyone to send out applications for vote-by-mail ballots. And more than 900,000 of the applications were sent to voters by the state Democratic Party.

The trouble is the return address was the Democratic Party - where political workers would process the voter's data, then forward the applications to county clerks.

In Lake County, for instance, they are still being deluged by applications to vote by mail and don't know if they will be able verify, then send out all the ballots requested by Thursday's 5 p.m. deadline.

"This is the first time we've had this rule in place and it looks to me like political parties and others tried to walk before they could walk," said Canary.

"People should be rest assured that as long as they're paying attention to those deadlines postmarked Monday they will be fine," said David Orr, Cook County Clerk.

Orr says if voters who applied for mail ballots and don't receive them, or can't postmark them by Monday, they should go the polls on Tuesday and vote.

Orr says so far his office has processed twice as many absentee ballot applications as he did before the law was changed to allow anyone to vote by mail. But he admits, the law may need to be tweaked after the problems in this first test.

"One of the tweaks would be to move up the process, instead of absentee applications the last day being Thursday before election maybe Tuesday a week before also i think we should encourage and or legally require people to make sure if they send out these applications have them sent to back to the election authority, that would speed things up," said Orr.

The I-Team wanted to speak with the sponsor of the law that allows anyone to send out vote by mail applications, Democratic state representative Barbara Flynn Currie. But she didn't call us back. Neither did Dan White, the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, who investigates voter complaints.

A spokesman for Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who helped direct the democrats vote-by-mail effort, did tell the I-Team that they believe most vote by mail ballots will be processed on time.

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