By Benjamin Yount
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois may not be finished investigating those late military ballots.
Members of the House Elections Committee say they're considering formal hearings into how and why 36 counties missed the deadline to send ballots to deployed servicemen and other overseas voters.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said there is clearly something wrong when one-third of local election offices miss a federal deadline to ensure soldiers and sailors have their votes counted.
"At least let's have some kind of inquiry…and let's review, find out what happened for sure, and then take steps to make sure it doesn't happen in the future."
Brady said over 2,800 ballots were sent out late, and it remains to be seen if those ballots will all be returned on time. And State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, said that will be one of the deciding factors if lawmakers hold hearings or hold a more formal inquiry.
"The election authorities have two weeks after Election Day to get the ballots back, and still count them. And I'd like to see if the delay in sending out the ballots results in the ballots being delayed even after those two weeks."
The Illinois State Board of Elections and the U.S. Justice Department ordered local election offices in six counties to extend the final deadline for late ballots until Nov. 19. The two agencies also conducted their own investigation into why the counties missed the overseas ballot deadline. That probe did not blame or exonerate local election offices.
Nekritz said she's not interested in finding a scapegoat either.
"It's rarely my intention to hold a hearing for grand-standing purposes. I would like to have a legitimate inquiry into what happened and making sure that ballots get counted."
Brady adds that he's just looking for a solution, but thinks the legislature needs to send a serious message to local election officials that answers, and a full accounting, is expected.
"It may be something we need, subpoena power…that authority would need to be there. As opposed to an open invitation to come if you want to," said Brady
Nekrtiz said she couldn't remember the last time lawmakers subpoenaed someone to testify. Calls to both the State Board of Elections and local election officials for comment were not returned.
Brady has sent a letter to Nekritz, who heads the House Elections Committee, to formally request hearings during November's fall veto session. Nekrtiz said she would like to see the legislature open an inquiry, but thinks it may have to wait for a new General Assembly to be sworn-in in January.
Either way both lawmakers expect to see legislation next spring that is a response to the mistakes of this fall. Brady said there is some conflict between federal mandates, state law, and local budgets. He said the solution may be a stronger State Board of Elections.
"[The State Board] lacks the teeth of enforcement. In this area [the State Board] is not in a position to be able to fine or impose some type of penalty against a county clerk or election authority."
Nekrtiz expects action, and hopes for answers, but also said lawmakers are already looking at a massive to-do list for next spring that centers entirely on Illinois' dismal fiscal situation.