Election Protection 2016: A Mini-Site on Illinois Voting Data

During the 2016 general election, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights ran a hotline (866-OUR-VOTE) to assist people experiencing problems trying to vote. More than 300 legal volunteers were trained to answer phone calls from voters and poll workers and to monitor hundreds of polling places throughout Chicago and the suburban counties. With the help of Moment Design, we collected all the data from Illinois to show you how different voters faced various barriers to the polls. By understanding these diverse voter experiences, we can modernize and strengthen our democracy together.

Major Findings

During the 2016 election cycle, volunteers answered thousands of voter questions related to voter intimidation, language barriers, lack of access to polling places, and voter registration problems. In Illinois, problems were reported in 61 counties, including numerous problems reported by people of color.
Of the 1,082 reported voting issues during election season in Illinois, the vast majority fell into three main categories:

  • 79 ballot issues, including absentee ballots lost in the mail, ballots that were already partially completed or fragmented, and insecure paper ballot storage.

  • 230 registration issues, including registered voters with incorrect status on the voter rolls and eligible voters who could not get registered.

  • 546 polling place issues, including polls unexpectedly closing, electioneering, and missing voting equipment, malfunctions and delays.

The site also features select stories from the call center to illustrate some of the barriers that kept eligible Illinois voters from casting their ballots in 2016, such as poll workers improperly asking for ID. One call entry states:

At polling place. Asked for her license. [Poll worker] trying to tell her that her signature was not the same. Escalated to [Election Protection] call center captain… [election] official agreed to call the poll workers to instruct them that they should not be asking for identification.

Voters also experienced significant problems with poll workers who intentionally or unintentionally failed to follow correct procedures for administering Election Day Registration and other voting regulations, as illustrated below:

Data Points to Solutions for Greater Voter Access

Many of the voter access problems uncovered by data point to the need for systemic reforms, including robust election judge training, election modernization, improved protocols for mail-in ballots, access for voters with disabilities or limited English proficiency, redistricting reform, and fairness for voters interfacing with the criminal justice system. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) can help address systemic disenfranchisement of eligible voters. AVR has been passed by both chambers of Illinois General Assembly on a unanimous bipartisan basis and awaits Governor Rauner’s signature.
As Election Day Registration (EDR) faces ongoing litigation, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee will defend it to protect voter access. In November 2016, voters in every county of the state used EDR, amounting to over 100,000 voters.
“We received hundreds of calls from voters asking about EDR,” said Director of Voting Rights and Civic Empowerment Ami Gandhi. “We’ve seen the alternative to EDR in past elections and in neighboring states, where voters have been turned away from the polls. EDR has proven to be a critical tool to expand ballot access, particularly in communities of color where eligible voters are disproportionately excluded from our democracy.”
Volunteer attorneys with Chicago Lawyers’ Committee were successful at troubleshooting many problems in real time by communicating directly with poll workers and election officials. This data will help inform further action through litigation, administrative or legislative reform, and community outreach. To get involved or submit input on this project, please contact Timna Axel at taxel@clccrul.org.