With Tuesday’s Illinois primary election at hand, now comes word that Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville), Rep. Jil Tracy (R-Mount Sterling) and Rep. Rich Myers (R-Macomb) are co-sponsoring legislation to repeal the Illinois Undervote Notification Law.
The law, which we covered in detail in Sunday’s Quincy Herald-Whig, went into effect Jan. 1. It requires vote-tabulating machines to alert voters if they neglected to vote for any state or federal office listed on the ballot.
In most cases, the alert will involve an audible beep by the optical scanner when the voter submits his or her completed ballot. The noisy alert will let anyone standing nearby know the voter didn’t vote for one or more offices, even if the undervote was on purpose.
County clerks across the state, including Adams County Clerk Georgia Volm, have been speaking out against the new law. They feel voters will lose their right to a secret ballot when the counting machine beeps. They also fear the process of explaining what happened to the voter will cause delays and slow down the voting process at polling places.
A press release issued Jan. 28 by Watson and Tracy cites similar concerns as the main reason they are co-sponsoring House Bill 4687 to repeal the undervote notification requirement. The press release says the new law “could cause serious headaches for polling places throughout the state.”
Watson, the chief sponsor, actually filed the bill Nov. 23. Several other legislators signed on as co-sponsors, including Tracy and Myers on Jan. 28.
Watson said the undervote law has not only generated concerns about abridging voter privacy but also about election equipment malfunctions and the cost to update voter machines with the needed technology.
“The notification law was well intentioned by trying to alert voters that they may have forgot to cast their vote for one of the constitutional offices, but I think this is a perfect example of overreacting and over legislating,” he said.
“When these types of laws are passed, a lot of times they come with unintended consequences. Once county clerks began to execute the notification process it became clear there were some serious concerns ensuring voters’ ballots remained private.”
Tracy echoes those sentiments.
“The secret ballot is fundamental to the democratic process,” she said. “Preserving a voter’s privacy helps to encourage voter turnout and allows residents to express their true views without the fear that these opinions may be held against them. I think it would be a huge disservice to Illinois’ democratic process if voters’ rights are in any way infringed upon.”
Watson and Tracy said it should be noted that a large majority of undervotes are intentional, such as when a resident simply chooses not to select a nominee for a specific office or if a candidate is running unopposed.
“It’s unfortunate we could not get this legislation acted upon before the Feb. 2 primary, but I am hopeful when the General Assembly reconvenes we can get the support to repeal the notification law before November’s general election,” Watson said.