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Columns

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Voting, a sacred citizen right, is completely nonpartisan

Republicans buy stamps, too. Right?

On Monday, the Cook County Republican Party filed a federal lawsuit challenging of Senate Bill 1863, a proposal passed in May ostensibly making November’s election safer.

Among the allegations are that Gov. JB Pritzker violated Illinoisans’ right to vote “by signing into law a partisan voting scheme that is designed to harvest Democratic ballots, dilute Republican ballots, and, if the election still doesn’t turn out the way he wants it, to generate enough Democratic ballots after election day to sway the result.”

The suit also claims making Election Day a state holiday, simplifying use of public buildings as polling places, constitutes an attempt at converting public workers, teachers and students into “an army” of ballot harvesters.

I’m no legal scholar, but this litigation seemingly faces a critical challenge: it’s party-neutral. SB 1863 doesn’t say only Democrats can apply for mail-in ballots, that only schools in blue precincts can be used as polling places or that only votes supporting the graduated income tax amendment will be accepted until Nov. 17 (if postmarked by midnight Nov. 3).

Another potentially fatal flaw is that the law’s major tweak — automatically sending mail-in ballot applications to active registrants who voted by mail within the last three statewide elections — is both largely completed and irrelevant to the stated problem, because every Illinoisan has the same right to vote by mail as they did the last time we chose a president (who himself votes by mail).

That said, Democrats were foolish to push spending millions of federal coronavirus relief dollars promoting mail voting to those most inclined to use that service. But that money is spent and can’t be recovered.

Obviously the lawsuit implies Democrats alone will use mail-in ballots illegally, and I’m sympathetic to the assertion our “state government is one of the most inept in the Union.” But the time for challenging was when Illinois first allowed any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without specifying a reason.

Republicans can (and do! and should!) request vote by mail ballots. Or they can (and do! and should!) vote early at a county clerk’s office and certain other locations. All counties can conduct curbside voting, in which a Republican and Democratic election judge come from the county building to a voter’s car to legally present and collect a ballot. Polling place election judges also are bipartisan, as are the panels that review signatures on mailed ballots.

Buying stamps isn’t political or even necessary — applications and ballots come postage paid — meaning this lawsuit distracts from the more important work of getting people registered and helping them plan to participate. The act of voting is nonpartisan, no matter how you cast your ballot.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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