By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — No one is going to jail, no one is being fined, in fact none of the 35 Illinois counties that missed the deadline for mailing military ballots are in any trouble at all.
But a number of local election officials say they're being treated unfairly after the State Board of Elections and the U.S. Department of Justice have come to terms over those late overseas ballots.
Six counties, Boone, Jersey, St. Clair, Hancock, Massac and Schuyler, are being ordered to accept overseas ballots postmarked as late as Nov 2 and to count ballots received as last Nov 19. All other counties will only count ballots postmarked by Nov 1 and received no later than Nov 16.
State Board of Elections chief Dan White said only the six counties mailed ballots late enough to cause worry.
"Even though some other ballots were sent-out late, past the September 18 deadline, those ballots had sufficient time to be voted and returned. But there were some jurisdictions where the ballots went-out considerably late."
White said the important issue for both the state board and the Department of Justice is that overseas votes will be counted. He adds that no one is looking to blame local counties.
"Our focus, and for the Justice Department as well, is…lets see what we can do to fix the problem and give people overseas and military people a chance to have their voices heard."
But that is not how county clerks in some of the six targeted counties see things.
Massac County Clerk John Taylor said he was late with a total of four ballots, only one that has not been returned yet, and is now on a list from the Department of Justice.
"I think they're wanting to make a point. And Massac County is going to be listed there for one vote."
Taylor said the whole controversy could have been avoided by a few phone calls. But Hancock County Clerk Kerry Asbridge said he doesn't think that's what investigators wanted.
"This is a classic case of both the Department of Justice and the State Board of Elections spending way too much time playing on computers and email, instead of going out in the field and talking to the people who are trying to go by their conflicting directives."
Many of the counties who missed the September deadline said they were late because of a pending court challenge to the ballot. And Asbridge said he'd rather be late than have to pay for new ballots.
"We'd have gladly had all these ballots printed if either the federal government or the state of Illinois would have given us $8,000 to have them reprinted."
Asbridge added that Hancock County had eight late ballots, Taylor in Massac County said he had just the four.
Pam McCollough in Boone County said she had just two, and said both have been returned. That's a questions she said no one ever asked her.
"I felt there would not have been a problem with both military ballots [because] they were both in the United States."
St. Clair County had the most late military and overseas ballots, over 1,200, all of which officials say will be counted. White with the state board says the investigation into the matter is now complete.