Pritzker, Illinois’ congressional Republicans trade barbs over election security

Illinois’ Republican congressional delegation wants Gov. J.B. Pritzker to focus on fixing problems with the state’s automatic voter registration program instead of President Donald Trump’s personnel decision.

Pritzker confirmed he wrote the president a letter Feb. 21 that was critical of Trump’s decision to relieve acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

“What I’ve written a letter to the president about is to make sure that I get fully briefed on any kind of potential Russian hacking or interference with our elections,” Pritzker said Thursday.

Pritzker’s letter opened with reports about Maguire’s status.

“Recent reports in open source media indicate the White House relieved … Maguire due to his officer’s testimony before the House Intel Committee that highlighted the continued threat that state actors, namely Russia, pose to the security of the election process,” the governor wrote.

Pritzker’s letter was also sent to Illinois’ Republican congressional delegation, U.S. Reps Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, and Darin LaHood, R-Peoria.

In the letter, Pritzker noted the 2016 breach that compromised voter data held by the Illinois State Board of Elections.

“[W]e in Illinois are keenly aware of the real-world threat as well as the impact that such attacks have on the integrity of our election process,” the governor wrote.

Because Illinois’ elections are decentralized and controlled at the county level, the 2016 breach didn’t change any votes.

“Due to the known targeting of Illinois’ election system in the past two election cycles, the State of Illinois is likely to suffer increased vulnerability as a direct result of the President’s decision,” Pritzker wrote in the letter. “For this reason … we immediately and urgently request that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence provide the governor with a brief outlining all known threats to election systems so that Illinois can be prepared as possible to ensure our election is protected from all hazards including foreign interference.”

Republicans responded with their own letter to the governor.

“As you copied only the Republican members of the Illinois congressional delegation on this letter, we feel compelled to respond and set the record straight on the factual errors within the letter,” the Republicans said in a letter dated March 2. “Further, we are alarmed that your focus is directed at White House Personnel decision while our shared State of Illinois currently faces a number of serious election administration and security issues.”

In an interview about the letter, Davis said the state faces serious problems with the implementation of its automatic voter registration program. Implementation of the program has taken longer than expected. A programming error at the Secretary of State’s Office led to more than 500 people who said they were not U.S. citizens being improperly registered to vote. State officials said the programming error has been fixed. Other issues have included forwarding 16-year-olds to elections officials to register and an error that removed hundreds of formerly incarcerated felons with the right to vote off the voter rolls.

“I’m glad that Jesse White’s office, Secretary [of State] White’s office is really working hard to correct them but it doesn’t negate the fact that we still have a problem with election security on the ground,” Davis said.

Davis said he had other concerns about election security in Illinois, including reports that multiple ballots had been sent to people in Champaign County.

“I certainly wish the governor would focus his efforts on places like the Champaign County Clerk’s office to help them correct their mistakes versus trying to play in the president’s personnel decisions,” Davis said.

Pritzker dismissed criticism from the Republicans when asked about it Thursday.

“They would like me not to focus on the fact that the president fired his DNI for telling the truth to Congress,” Pritzker said. “These are Republican congressmen that are speaking.”

In their letter to Pritzker, the Republicans said the governor got the facts wrong about Maguire’s status.

“Subsequent to your letter, additional reporting indicated that DNI Maguire’s office overstated Russia’s efforts in the 2020 election,” the GOP letter said. “We do, however, agree with you that Russia is to be taken very seriously and our national intelligence agencies must continue to address the threat of election meddling by foreign actors.

“Further, our State must get its own house in order before criticizing decisions made in Washington,” the letter said. “Finally, we are disappointed that you included only Republican members of the Illinois Delegation on your letter to the President. Election security is an issue that should rise above petty partisan politics.”

Pritzker didn’t address the automatic voter registration problems when asked Thursday. He has previously said problems with the program have been corrected and that there was no need to suspend the program, as some statehouse Republicans had requested.

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