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Election Officials: Automatic Voter Registration Mostly A Success, Despite Setbacks

Dana Vollmer
Peoria Public Radio
Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich takes questions during a press conference at the Tazewell County Clerk's Office on Jan. 30, 2020.

State election officials contend Illinois' automatic voter registration system is mostly a success, despite some hiccups.

The Illinois State Board of Elections announced earlier this week that nearly 4,700 16-year-olds began the process of registering to vote when they got their driver's license. Those registrations were blocked by ISBE, which flagged them as ineligible based on their birthdate.

ISBE spokesman Matt Dietrich said the Secretary of State’s office incorrectly thought those registrations could be held until the teens were of legal voting age.

Even though those registrations were rejected, Dietrich said, some form of damage was still done.

"Getting a letter from the State Board of Elections when you're 16 that says, 'You can't register to vote, sorry' ... that's not the kind of interaction that we want to encourage,” he said. “We want to encourage everyone to vote. That's the meaning of automatic voter registration."

Dietrich said ISBE is working with the Secretary of State's office to ensure ineligible teens aren't offered the opportunity to register. Illinois teens can register to vote at 17, if they turn 18 by the time of the election.

Separately, 545 non-citizens successfully registered to vote due to a programming error in the automatic voter registration system. Of those, 15 cast a ballot in 2018 and 2019 elections.

Dietrich said while it's troubling those ineligible voters were registered, it's important to remember the scope of the program.

"There were a total of 600,000 of those types of applications that came through, so we're dealing with a very small number,” he said. "Not that that excuses anything, but there's a tremendous volume that comes through the AVR program — and we've viewed it as a tremendously successful program."

371 of the non-citizens who registered have been removed from the voter database, Dietrich said, adding that it's up to local election officials to contact the remaining 174 to verify their citizenship and ensure ineligible voters don't cast a ballot.

The Secretary of State’s office assured ISBE the programming error has been corrected.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated one non-citizen voter cast a ballot in Peoria County. The State Board of Elections previously retracted that statement. We regret the error.