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Election coverage: Elections results in Lake County could be compromised

Colin Selbo & StephanieLehman // Published October 17, 2008 in Lake County Journals
WAUKEGAN - Lake County Clerk Willard Helander expressed concerns Oct. 17 with the high volume of irregularities in voter registration applications recently received by her office.

These improprieties could impact the results of local elections within the county, Helander said.

"The integrity of an election could well be compromised," Helander said. "In an election cycle where a Lake County candidate would win or lose by one or two votes, this is really scary."

The problem lies with a mail-in voter registration system that is "seriously flawed," Helander said, and lacks appropriate safeguards.

"Because [mail-in registration] has so many opportunities for misdeeds there are a number of people taking advantage of [the system,]" Helander said. "The mail-in form has been a source of compromising voter registration."

Helander said she has passed faulty applications onto the Lake County Sheriff's office as well as state and federal authorities for further investigation.

Todd Govain, supervisor of voter registration, said he began to notice in mid-August addresses on some applications did not exist in Lake County.

"They came in and I noticed, just looking at the addresses, that hmm, these addresses look funny," Govain said. "It was a lot of weird stuff going on with the records."

The clerk's office has currently documented 892 applications with faulty addresses, Helander said.

The clerk's office also found applications with multiple signatures that appeared to be signed by the same person and applications sent to deceased Lake County residents as well as applications for household pets.

Several local residents sent back faulty applications to the clerk's office. These returned applications are one of the only ways election officials were alerted to the problem, Helander said.

"Our system does not provide safeguards to protect the voters," Helander said. "[Voters] deserve to know the quality of voter registration efforts."

Helander called several surrounding counties to make them aware of the problems Lake County was experiencing. Many reported no such similar encounters, she said.

"We have not had any problems like that," said McHenry County Clerk, Katherine Schultz, who said she was contacted by Willard in September. "When I was talking to her, I was afraid we were going to see the same things."

But, Schultz said, McHenry County is significantly smaller than Lake County, and also further from Chicago - two factors she said might have played a role in the mail-in incongruities in Lake County.

Adam Fogel of FairVote, a non-partisan right-to-vote organization, said voter registration deadlines immediately prior to elections place additional burdens on counties throughout the country.

"The system itself just in terms voter registration is seriously flawed," Fogel said. "The problem nationally is that county clerks are underfunded, understaffed and overworked. That's something that's true in nearly every jurisdiction of the country."

Helander said concerns ultimately come down to ensuring that only voters who are legitimate and properly registered are casting ballots.

"We need to know that everyone who casts a vote is a bona-fide voter."

If residents believe they have received a ballot for a falsely registered voter, Helander said they should call the county clerk's office at 847-377-2410 or e-mail [email protected].