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Kadner: Letter threatens to ‘out’ non-voters

Nancy Schultz Voots Will County Clerk. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Nancy Schultz Voots, Will County Clerk. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:29AM



A letter threatening to publish the names of people who don’t vote in Tuesday’s local elections was mailed to residents of Frankfort Township over the weekend.

“What if your neighbors knew whether you voted?” reads the ominous opening sentence. “Why do so many people fail to vote? We’ve been talking about the problem for years, but it only seems to get worse.

“This year we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you and your neighbors to publicize who does and does not vote.”

The letter includes the person’s voting history (i.e., “vote” in November 2008; “no vote” in November 2012), but not the party or candidates supported by the recipient. An additional page contains the alleged voting records of about 60 “neighbors” who are named,

Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots, the chief election official for the county, was so upset by the mailing that she asked the state’s attorney’s office to investigate whether any violation of voters’ rights had occurred.

Mary Tatroe, chief of the state’s attorney’s civil division, responded that political committees “have the right to receive a copy of the poll list, (but) there is nothing in the statute prohibiting the redistribution of these lists by the committees that receive them.”

A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said the list of people who voted is available to registered political committees and government agencies.

Political committees and candidates often turn that information over to marketing research firms so they can target voters with campaign literature and robocalls.

Mary Farmer, who lives in an unincorporated area of Frankfort Township near Mokena, received a letter and was outraged.

“How dare they threaten to release my name publicly and publish the names of my neighbors,” Farmer said. “I don’t understand how they obtained this information. I’m so upset I’m tempted never to vote again.”

William Birk, of Tinley Park, was almost as angry as Farmer.

“I was suspicious when I received the letter because there was no return address on the envelope or the letter itself,” Birk said.

The outside of the stamped envelope was marked by a red-ink stamp and reads “Audit,” which Birk interpreted “as an obvious ploy to deceive people to get them to open the envelope.”

At the bottom of the front page of the letters sent to Birk and Farmer is their voting history in the November 2008, April 2009 and November 2012 elections.

“Who you vote for is secret, but who votes is public record,” the letter states. “Do your civic duty! Vote on Tuesday!”

At the top of the letter is the name of a group, Citizens for Effective Local Government, that is not registered with the state board of elections as a political committee. The organization threatens to publish the list of voters and nonvoters on a website, www.frankforttownshipvotes.com, that does not appear to exist.

All of the recipients of the letter who contacted the SouthtownStar and Will County officials appear to be residents of Frankfort Township and registered Democrats, although Farmer contends that she sometimes has voted Republican.

Birk said his wife votes Republican and did not receive a letter, although she lives at the same address. He said he didn’t realize voter polling lists were public information,

And they’re not, really.

It might seem strange that an ordinary person can’t get a copy of such a list from election officials, but political parties and committees can. But the political parties run the Illinois General Assembly. They want voter lists that identify who voted Republican or Democrat in primary elections so they can target their messages and limit campaign costs.

Lists of likely voters also help political parties and pollsters when they’re trying to identify important issues and attract those most likely to vote.

“I think it’s dirty politics plain and simple,” Birk said about the letter that arrived at his home Friday.

Frankfort Township Assessor Joseph Kral, a Republican, said he was contacted about the letters by angry neighbors on Sunday.

“From what I can determine, the letters were sent to people who were Democrats, and the list on the second page seems to be people who have voted in Democratic primaries in the past,” Kral said. “But when they list the elections and whether people voted or didn’t vote, some of that information seems to be wrong.

“I just think this is awful. This is the worst thing I’ve seen in politics in my three years in office. ... I know nothing about who did this, except that it was costly because the stamps cost 48 cents each, but that makes these mailings virtually untraceable.”

Will County Democratic chairman Scott Pyles said he knew nothing about the letters until a candidate told him about seeing “something on the SouthtownStar website.

“We didn’t do this, I can tell you that,” Pyles said. “We don’t have the money. We put a total of $250 into backing the entire Democratic slate in Frankfort Township.

“I don’t know how anyone could determine what the impact of such a mailing would be, but I would guess the Republicans were behind it because it would likely upset the people who received the letters. And Republicans outnumber Democrats in Frankfort Township about 2 to 1.”

Edward Ronkowski, the county Republican chairman, had an opposite view.

“These letters are being sent out by Democrats,” he said. “Why would Republicans threaten any Democrat who fails to vote in this election? These letters were targeted primarily at Democratic voters who do not vote in (local) elections.”

The lists of people who voted, or didn’t vote, should either be made available to everyone or restricted only to election officials. Giving political committees access to that information is giving them authority to harass people.

“I believe it’s a civic duty to vote,” Birk said. “But people shouldn’t be coerced or intimidated into voting. This is about freedom to do what you want to do, the very essence of democracy.”

Yes, but because political parties make the laws, I doubt anything will change.



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