GUEST: Jon Barnard on why he sued for the unprecedented remedy: 'People couldn't vote, because of a government failure. They have the right to vote, it needs to be restored, it needs to be protected.'
By Brad Friedman on 3/18/2016, 5:48pm PT  

I'm joined on today's BradCast by Adams County, IL State's Attorney Jon Barnard to discuss the extraordinary court order [PDF] issued just last night to mandate the county allow voters turned away from the polls last Tuesday, due to ballot shortages, to cast a "late vote" in that election Monday through Friday of next week. [Audio link to the complete show is at the end of this article.]

I've never seen a court-ordered remedy like it and, apparently, neither have any of the experts I spoke to. That's for good reason: this may be a national precedent, certainly one in the state of Illinois. It's also one that, as I learned from Barnard --- who was just out of another court hearing on this matter today --- the Illinois state Attorney General is now moving to block.

As I noted (okay, ranted about) on Wednesday's program, an untold number of voters were unable to cast a vote at all across precincts in Adams (Quincy) and other counties around the state on Tuesday, thanks to local election officials underestimating the number of paper ballots that would be needed, despite huge voter turnout elsewhere around the country during this Presidential Primary season so far.

"People couldn't vote because of, essentially, a government failure," Barnard charges. "They have the right to vote. It needs to be restored. It needs to be protected."

He explained how he came up with the idea for this extraordinary remedy after an estimated 3,400 voters were turned away on Tuesday, and why he believes it's so important. "Yes, it is unprecedented, at least to my knowledge, that someone has sought this remedy," he says. "But you know what, Brad? In a situation like this, we've got to do something. And there's got to be a first time. It might as well be here, it might as well be now. This is an emergency. It's not an exaggeration to say that we ask people to die to protect this right. I don't think it's going too far or doing too much that we have instituted an emergency measure with sufficient safeguards to restore that right to people who have been denied that right. When we ask people, quite literally, to dive on grenades so that we can have this right, I'm going to do everything I think we ought to do to protect that right. And if this is the first time, then so be it."

The County's long-time Republican prosecutor describes the safeguards that will be implemented --- including an affidavit that voters must sign under penalty of perjury, attesting that they had attempted but were unable to vote on Tuesday, due to the shortages --- which he believes are "more than sufficient to minimize the opportunity for mischief in the process." He also explains why he "didn't buy" the argument raised in court that allowing voters to vote, after preliminary results have already been announced, would be unfair. That, even in the wake of close elections in the state, like the one between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

He offers details of the state AG's current motion to deny the "extended voting" now scheduled to take place next week at the County Clerk's office in the County Courthouse, even while the court order is under appeal. (The "late ballots," he says, will be segregated from the others in the event that another court orders they not be included in the final certified results.)

"The lessons that the County Clerk has and may learn in the future, as a result of this, are painful and real," Barnard tells me as I ask him about the "money-saving" decision to lowball the number of ballots that were originally printed. "But, I think we have to keep our eye on the ball. What we're attempting to deal with here is a problem of monumental proportions, going right to heart of our system, right to the heart of our democracy. Look, if I'm wrong about this, if the procedure we have established to restore those rights to these voters is flawed and some appellate court tells me so, so be it. But I'd rather be wrong about the process while attempting to restore the right to vote than do nothing"

Also, midway through today's program, I received comment via email from Adams County Clerk Chuck Venvertloh, with answers to my queries sent earlier about why precinct judges weren't simply instructed to photocopy blank ballots immediately so that people would not have been turned away at all. Venvertloh was responsible for the decision to print ballots for just 27% of eligible voters, despite the state statute requiring 110% at each precinct. He is hardly the only County Clerk in the state to ignore the rarely-enforced requirement due to cost-cutting reasons. Venvertloh also offers an answer to my query about why he is choosing to "remake" the 1,162 ballots that were cast on photocopies, onto actual ballots --- so that they can be run through the county's computer optical-scanner --- rather than simply counting them by hand, which is an issue that Barnard also responds to (and joins me in taking offense) during the interview.

For those who don't bother to listen to the full show (and you really should!), allow me to note here that I don't believe Venvertloh was attempting anything nefarious in his decisions. But they were costly ones for voters, should never have occurred, and he should have had better procedures in place in the event that they failed. It's difficult enough to get voters to the polls. Yes, mistakes happen. But turning voters away or forcing them to wait in line for hours (as also happened elsewhere in the state on Tuesday, as it did in NC, FL and other states this cycle and in the past) needs to stop. It's outrageous and completely predictable by now.

Also on today's program: Some encouraging electoral justice news from last Tuesday's elections in both Chicago and Cleveland; Desi Doyen with the latest Green News Report; and some listener mail in response to a number of stories we've been covering on The BradCast over the past week. Please buckle up and listen responsibly!...


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