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Republicans Accuse Champaign County Clerk Of Election Misconduct

A sign identifies the Brookens Administrative Center in Urbana as a polling place for early voting.

UPDATE: Nov. 3 2020 – Beginning Monday, November 2, the Champaign County Clerk will provide names and addresses of who has received vote-by-mail ballots in the county, and who has sent them back. A judge on Friday ordered County Clerk Aaron Ammons to provide the information in a public, accessible place, since his office has been closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns. A group of Champaign County Republicans asked for the information. They say some vote-by-mail ballots have come from voters who don’t meet residency requirements. Judge John R. Kennedy rejected their request to declare those ballots invalid. However, Judge Kennedy did order Ammons to make sure Republican election judges are equally represented at the counting station, when votes are tabulated in Tuesday’s election. In a statement, Ammons accused Republicans of trying to undermine the election and suppress ballots. He said his office was committed to transparency and access to information for all.

ORIGINAL STORY: Oct. 30 – URBANA – A hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon (October 30) in a Champaign County courtroom will give a group of local Republicans their first chance to make their case against County Clerk Aaron Ammons. They accuse the clerk of sending mail-in ballots to voters who don’t meet residency requirements.

Friday’s hearing of the Champaign County GOP complaint (docket #2020CH000113) is scheduled for 1 PM in Courtroom E, at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana, before Judge John R. Kennedy.

In their court filing, the Republicans say they believe mail-in ballots from voters who don’t meet residency requirements, have been accepted by County Clerk Ammons.

Their filing includes a list of 146 voters, each with two addresses. The Republicans say Ammons used National Change of Address data to find the new, out-of-county addresses of these voters. That, said the plaintiffs’ complaint, exceeded Ammons’ authority as county clerk under Illinois law.

“Ammons’ conduct presents a clear risk to the integrity of the election process by soliciting unlawful voters and rendering the detecting of invalid ballots problematic.”

The Republican plaintiffs are the Champaign County Republican Central Committee, its chairman, Dee Shonkwiler, Champaign County Board member (and candidate for reelection) Stanley Harper and Sadorus resident Jody Seibold. The three are all identified in the court filing as legal voters in the county. Their complaint seeks to block the ballots in question from being counted.

The complaint also asks a judge to order Ammons to provide them with voter data that they say has been denied them. That includes listings of all voters and their addresses where Vote by Mail applications and ballots have been sent, a list of names and addresses for Vote by Mail ballots that the county has received, and a listing of all appointed election judges for the November 3 election, as well as election judge positions still vacant.

The complaint also accuses Ammons of violating the Election Code in the March 17 primary election, by changing the number of ballots cast in Champaign Township’s 2nd precinct prior to public disclosure; failing to have Republican Party representation at the Counting Station; and sending more than one ballot to the same voter.

Earlier this year, the Illinois State Board of Elections admonished Ammons after receiving a complaint that his office had tabulated some March primary ballots before the polls had closed. Ammons has denied the charge.

“Ammons failure to comply strictly with the Election Code and continued interference threatens the integrity of the election process and will cause irreparable harm to ascertainable rights of the plaintiffs,” the Republican court complaint stated.

In a statement Thursday, Ammons said the Republican plaintiffs were “desperately attempting to suppress the vote”, by asking a judge to limit the actions of Champaign County’s first Democratic county clerk in decades.

“They no longer have the ability to suppress votes of students and people of color,” stated Ammons, “so they are implementing tactics from Donald Trump’s playbook.”

Without addressing the plaintiffs’ specific claims, Ammons said that more than 50,000 people have already voted early in Champaign County – in person or by mail – and that the process has been safe and secure. He added that the early voting and mail-in balloting has been conducted with many Republican election judges who were committed to a process that was “fair, free and accessible to all”.

“The current county Republican Party is an embarrassment to their work and commitment,” said Ammons in his statement.

Decatur attorney Jerrold Stocks is representing the Republican plaintiffs, while the Champaign County state’s attorney’s office is representing Ammons. 

Follow Jim Meadows on Twitter: @WILLJim Meadows 

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Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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