Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the state of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Elections, and its director for failing to allow public access its voter roll data in violation of the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993
State officials refused to allow the non-profit Illinois Conservative Union and three lawfully registered Illinois voters to obtain a copy of the state's voter registration list, despite their lawful request for those records under federal law. Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit on their behalf in the United States District Court in the Northern District of Illinois (Illinois Conservative Union et al v. Illinois et al.
Federal law provides that states "shall make available for public inspection and, where available, photocopying at a reasonable cost, all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters."
On July 24, 2019, the Illinois Conservative Union sent a public records request under this provision to the Illinois State Board of Elections, requesting information about the maintenance of voter rolls, including the most recent voter registration list for Illinois. The request noted that the records "would be used solely for purposes intended by federal law, namely, to ensure the accuracy and currency of the official list of eligible voters,"
the complaint said.
The State Board of Elections denied the request, claiming that only political committees or governmental bodies may receive copies of records. The State Board did allow a few Illinois Conservative Union members to travel to Springfield, Illinois during working hours and afforded them the opportunity to review Illinois' millions of voter records one at a time on a computer terminal, with no ability to sort or organize records. By this lawsuit the Illinois Conservative Union seeks meaningful access to the records it requested.
As several federal courts have recognized, the public records provisions of the National Voter Registration Act were intended to enhance the ability of private groups to monitor whether states are removing ineligible voters from their voter rolls. In April, a federal court in Maryland
noted that organizations "such as Judicial Watch" have "the resources and expertise that few individuals can marshal. By excluding these organizations from access to voter registration lists,"
the purpose of the federal law is undermined. That court ordered Maryland to produce complete voter registration records requested by Judicial Watch.
In Illinois, Judicial Watch's research found that 14 out of 102 counties (14% of all counties) have more registered voters than citizens over 18, while Illinois as a whole has 660,000 inactive registrants.
"This lawsuit aims to open up Illinois voting records so private groups can tell whether they are dirty,"
said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "Illinois voters and citizens have a right to review election rolls under federal law and Illinois' refusal to make them available suggests the state knows the rolls are a mess and won't stand the light of the day."
Judicial Watch is a national leader for cleaner elections.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch sued Pennsylvania
and North Carolina
for failing to make reasonable efforts to remove ineligible voters from their rolls as required by federal law. The lawsuits allege that the two states have nearly 2 million extra names on voter registration rolls.
In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld a voter-roll cleanup program that resulted from a Judicial Watch settlement of a federal lawsuit with Ohio
. California settled
a National Voter Registration Act lawsuit with Judicial Watch and last year began the process of removing up to 1.6 million inactive names from Los Angeles County's voter rolls. Kentucky
also began a cleanup of hundreds of thousands of old registrations last year after it entered into a consent decree to end another Judicial Watch lawsuit.
Judicial Watch's 2019 study found 378 counties nationwide that had more voter registrations than citizens old enough to vote, i.e., counties where registration rates exceed 100%. These 378 counties combined had about 2.5 million registrations over the 100%-registered mark.
Judicial Watch Attorney Robert Popper is the director of Judicial Watch's election integrity initiative. Judicial Watch is being assisted by attorney David J. Shestokas of Orland Park, Illinois.