Opinion | Brett Rowland: Glitch in Illinois' automatic voter registration system cause for concern
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Opinion | Brett Rowland: Glitch in Illinois' automatic voter registration system cause for concern

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A glitch in the state's automatic voter registration program that resulted in more than 500 people who said they weren't U.S. citizens being added to the voter rolls should have alarm bells ringing for voters and politicians throughout Illinois.

For about 18 months, a programming error in the Illinois Secretary of State's automatic voter registration program sent data to the Illinois State Board of Elections from people who indicated they weren't U.S. citizens.

Of the 545 who were improperly registered to vote, 16 people cast 19 ballots. That's a huge problem that raises a host of new questions about the state's ability to hold secure elections. It could also put the people who voted at risk for deportation. That's unacceptable.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the state's automatic voter registration program into law in 2017. However, implementation of the program has been problematic, despite delays. And one of the results was exactly what critics had feared.

Yes, implementing a statewide "motor voter" program was a big task and involved a number of state agencies. But checks should have been put in place long before the Secretary of State's office began sending information over to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Secretary of State Jesse White needs to publicly explain what happened, how it happened and what is going to be done to make sure the problem is fixed.

On the heels of the 2016 voter data breach, the latest election security issues raise serious questions about how prepared the state is for the next election.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he wants a full investigation. That's a good place to start. It also seems like a good time to check in on the state's REAL ID program. Errors there could have serious consequences as well.

White's office has been working to get residents signed up for the new federally-compliant REAL ID, a cumbersome process that travel experts have said could create chaos come next October when millions of people planning to fly for the holidays could be turned away from airports if they don't have federally-compliant identification.

The REAL ID cards are modified versions of the regular state-issued drivers; license and identification cards. Starting in October, REAL ID cards will be required for all airline travel, including domestic flights. The federally compliant ID cards will also be required to get into federal buildings and military bases.

Lawmakers and the governor should push to get this mess sorted out before early voting begins Feb. 6 for the March 17 primary.

Brett Rowland is Illinois editor of The Center Square, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Brett at browland@ilnews.org.

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