Conservative group alleges voter fraud in Illinois' DuPage County, but experts say evidence is weak

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CHICAGO — The national furor over alleged voter fraud has come to DuPage County, with a group fronted by Republican politician Jeanne Ives claiming that more than 1,000 people voted in the November 2020 election using DuPage addresses where they no longer lived.

Ives said her organization, Breakthrough Ideas, compared voter records against the U.S. Postal Service’s national change of address database and found that 1,343 people who gave notice that they had moved prior to Election Day ended up voting from their old addresses.

Though she said her group’s research isn’t meant to overturn last year’s results, in which Democrats solidified their ascendancy of the former Republican stronghold, she suggested the alleged discrepancy might have made the difference in several close races.

“Our investigation shows a lack of coherent procedures in the (DuPage County Clerk’s) office, sloppiness in maintaining voter data lists and outright negligence in assuring we have fair elections in DuPage County,” she said at a news conference Friday.

Ives, a former Illinois state representative who lost a Republican primary race for governor in 2018 and a congressional election last year, said she had turned the group’s findings over to county prosecutors “as voting from an address that is not your lawful place of residence constitutes an illegal, fraudulent vote.”

Adam Johnson, spokesman for DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek, said in a statement the office follows federal law in maintaining its voter rolls, using everything from death certificates to undeliverable mail to biannual change of address notifications to keep the list up to date.

He said the one voter Ives highlighted at her news conference — a person who allegedly moved to Florida from Hinsdale but still listed the old address while voting by mail — notified the clerk’s office months before the election that they had moved elsewhere within DuPage County and cast the proper ballot.

The Chicago Tribune could not reach the voter for comment.

Voting rights advocates say numerous groups have used change of address databases to question voter eligibility, a tactic they said has been driven by the ready accessibility of the information.

“This is obviously an easy data point,” said Spencer Scharff, senior adviser to the States United Democracy Center, which advocates for voter protection. “It’s easy to have a headline and difficult to understand the nuances.”

He cited one example in Nevada, where days after the November election, Trump campaign lawyers claimed that change of address information indicated 3,000 of the state’s voters had been ineligible. Reporters, though, found that many of those people were military members deployed away from home. (Ives said her tally stripped out voters with military or foreign service addresses.)

In another case, the Cyber Ninjas group hired by Arizona Republicans to audit that state’s election results used a commercial database to bolster their claim that more than 23,000 voters in Maricopa County sent mail-in ballots from addresses where they no longer lived.

County election officials rejected that conclusion, saying they reviewed hundreds of examples flagged by the company and found no evidence of illegal voting.

The allegation also arose late last year in Georgia, just before a pivotal special election that would determine control of the U.S. Senate.

An organization called True the Vote announced it was challenging the eligibility of more than 360,000 voters after the Postal Service database indicated they no longer lived at their registered addresses. That spawned a lawsuit after election officials in Muscogee County told people who allegedly appeared in the database that they’d have to prove their residency before their vote would count.

Several voters told the court that while they had temporarily moved for work reasons, gone off to college or left the state for military deployments, they had maintained their permanent addresses in Muscogee County. One man said his son, who shares his name, was the one who moved away.

A judge ruled against the election officials, saying their actions “confuse and intimidate voters by acting as a hurdle they must cross before they can be assured that their vote will count.”

Eliza Sweren-Becker, voting rights and election counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, called the change of address database “a very bad proxy for where you live and are permanently registered to vote,” given the many reasons why people have their mail forwarded.

She said federal law requires election officials to send notice to voters whose addresses appear to have changed. If they do not respond, officials must wait for two federal election cycles to pass without the people voting before they can be removed from the rolls.

The DuPage County effort, she said, “seems as if (it) is part and parcel of this ongoing attempt to cast doubt on the validity of last year’s election results as a way to undermine voter confidence.”

Ives said such criticism betrays an ignorance of the data.

“If they’re comfortable with people voting from wherever they want to vote from and not complying with the laws, we’re coming from two different mindsets,” she said.

DuPage County prosecutors regularly investigate allegations of election fraud, and State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said the initial tips usually come from the clerk’s office. His office looked at 32 cases following last November’s election and brought charges in five — two of which concerned people who applied for mail-in ballots at an Aurora address after they had moved to Texas.

Johnson said “communication with the (couple) ... indicated that they no longer resided in DuPage County,” and that they did not receive ballots or vote in the election. The clerk’s office sent the information to prosecutors, who charged the pair with perjury in election code, a felony.

Court documents indicate they pleaded guilty and were allowed into a diversion program that will let them eventually clear their record.

“We have a good relationship with (the DuPage County Clerk’s office),” Berlin said. “To my knowledge they’re proactive and they reach out to us when they discover something amiss.”

He declined to comment about the voter list sent to him by Breakthrough Ideas. Ives said she plans to highlight other alleged DuPage election problems in the coming weeks.

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