Fears over the potential for voter fraud in Illinois — where the state GOP has reportedly partnered with a variety of conservative organizations to recruit poll watchers — have been “totally blown out of whack,” Cook County Clerk David Orr tells TPMMuckraker.
Orr, a Democrat who was first elected as County Clerk in 1990, oversees elections in the suburban parts of Cook County. He said that poll watchers are an important part of the election process, so long as they follow the rules.
“Poll watchers are good. You have to separate the fact that it’s good for campaigns, it’s good for the body politic to have people there that are watching, I think that’s important,” Orr told TPMMuckraker on Friday. “The only problem comes if people abuse that, and we’ve certainly seen that in the past. We saw it in the last presidential election, we saw it in Michigan.”
“What some people have done — particularly Republicans in the past few years — is challenge people because of their race or ethnicity, and that is clearly illegal,” Orr added.
While the Daily Caller reported on Friday that the director of elections for Cook County — who Orr oversees — warned that voter fraud could be a problem, Orr said that characterization of the memo “is not particularly accurate.” They always put out a notice ahead of elections reminding candidates and campaigns of the rules, Orr said.
As mentioned in that memo, there were two people convicted of violating voter privacy in cases that had to do with absentee voting, said Orr. That’s not the type of in-person fraud that those behind the voter integrity push usually seek to prevent. The referenced cases involved associates of Alderman Bernard Stone, a Democrat turned Republican turned Democrat who is not running for re-election this year, said Orr, and they didn’t take place in the location Kirk was targeting.
“These two incidents took place in the largely Jewish, largely white, north side of Chicago,” said Orr. “You don’t say west and south side of Chicago unless you think African-American.”
Orr noted that in a debate with his Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias, GOP Senate Candidate Mark Kirk wouldn’t say where the voter fraud occurred. Kirk got into trouble after he was secretly recorded saying that he was deploying “voter integrity” squads to monitor the elections in two predominately African-American parts of Chicago.
“I have no problem with people fighting against fraud, I just don’t want people to misuse [their power],” Orr said.
As we’ve told you, Republicans in Illinois have been on an anti-voter fraud campaign ahead of the midterm elections. A prominent ‘birther’ is coordinating a poll watching effort along with the Republican Party in the state, though a Republican party official said that she is not on the payroll.