Wehrli Summarizes Second Special Session Day

The primary issue coming out of the second day of our special session in Springfield was approval of a massive expansion to Illinois’ vote by mail system. As a member of the House Executive Committee, I was able to participate in the vetting of the bill and ask important questions about issues such as cost and ensuring ballot integrity. In the end, when SB 1863 was brought to the floor for a vote, all Republicans voted no.

I want to make one thing very clear. My colleagues and I are not opposed to vote by mail. We are not interested in suppressing votes. I support efforts to allow ballot access to every registered voter. But what I do not support is an expansion to vote by mail with absolutely no provisions for ballot safety, and no provisions to ensure ballot applications are being sent only to properly registered voters. During his daily press briefing yesterday, Governor Pritzker accused Republicans of supporting voter suppression. His comments were offensive and I applaud House Republican Ryan Spain of Peoria for calling the Governor out for his divisive rhetoric.

Through SB 1863, millions of dollars will be spent to mail ballot applications to an estimated five million voters who voted in any election in 2018, 2019 or 2020. When asked about the cost of the program, the bill sponsor could not provide a cost; though she did admit during the committee hearing that federal CARES Act money coming to Illinois to help cover voting issues would not cover the full cost of the program. It’s a new unfunded mandate during a time when the State is staring at a $7 billion to $8 billion revenue hole in the budget.

Bur more importantly, the bill includes no safety measures to protect against ballot tampering or voter fraud, and zero safeguards to prevent vote by mail ballot harvesting by bad actors working as political operatives. The bill does not require county clerks to ensure their voter rolls have been cleared of deceased people or of those who have moved out of state or away from their original voter registration address.

Another glaring problem with SB 1863 is that there is no guidance for how “drop off boxes” would have to be constructed or anchored to the ground. The bill provides county clerks with the ability to authorize drop off locations where people could submit ballots without using US Mail. This would include college campuses, etc. In California’s vote by mail law, there is great detail about materials, sizes, anchoring, and other elements that would structurally prevent boxes from being stolen or tampered with. Through this Illinois bill, a ballot box could literally be made out of cardboard. Overall, the language of the bill threatens the integrity of our 2020 election and opens it up to widespread voter fraud. Nonetheless, on a partisan line vote, the measure was approved.

Looking ahead to today, we’re told to prepare for a long day with hopes we will conclude all necessary business. The budget bills and the budget implementation bill were dropped last night, and the Executive Committee will consider those bills this morning. You can watch the Executive Committee this morning at this link (we are meeting right now) and you can tune in to session at 11:00 AM at this link. The session start time could change if the Executive Committee runs long, but for now that’s our schedule.

I’ll continue to keep you posted on this historic legislative session.