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Immigration Activists Worry Illinois’ Voter Registration Mistake Could Lead To Deportations

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
Rep. Chris Welch, chairman of the House Executive Committee, speaks during debate in this file photo from October 2019.

A panel of lawmakers this week grilled Secretary of State Jesse White and officials from the Illinois State Board of Elections over problems with the state's automatic voter registration system.

A glitch in the system, known as AVR, inadvertently registered to vote about 574 people who are not U.S. citizens.

White sought to reassure lawmakers: “Heads will roll if this happens again.”

Initial reports said 15 votes were cast by non-citizens, but it turns out seven of those voters were in fact citizens — they checked the wrong box when registering to vote. The citizenship status of seven others has yet to be determined, so the state claims only one person voted illegally in the 16 months since the glitch.

State Rep. Chris Welch, a Democrat from Hillside, spoke approvingly of the way the secretary of state’s office is handling AVR. 

“The secretary himself answered the call of duty, owned up to the responsibility, and said it will never happen again,” Welch said. “I don’t think we could ask for anything for more than that.”

But attorney Mony Ruiz Velasco wants White and his team to do more about issues related to AVR because of the impact it has on immigrant communities.

“Voting always comes up in citizenship interviews,” Velasco said.

She said if people admit to voting — even though it was not their fault they were registered and told they could vote — authorities could try to deport them.

“Depending on what country they come from, they could be in a life or death situation if faced with deportation,” Velasco said.

The non-citizens who were mistakenly registered will receive a letter from the secretary of state’s office acknowledging the state was at fault.