Judicial Watch: Illinois Settles Voter Roll Lawsuit, Agrees to Make Voter Registration List Information Public
Full Voter Registration List Information to be Provided for the Past 15 Elections
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today it settled a federal election integrity lawsuit on behalf of the Illinois Conservative Union against the state of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Elections, and its director, which grants access to the current centralized statewide list of registered voters for the state for the past 15 elections.
State officials had refused to allow the nonprofit 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. The State Board allowed access to the records but made any meaningful review impossible, requiring the plaintiffs to travel to Springfield, Illinois during limited working hours and review Illinois’ millions of voter records one at a time on a computer terminal, with no ability to sort or organize records. 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. (No. 1:20-cv-05542)).
The settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis, and states:
Pursuant to this Agreement, Defendants shall provide to Plaintiffs the current centralized statewide list of registered voters for Illinois (the “Illinois Voter Registration List”) in electronic format, with all fields provided to political committees, including but not limited to fields indicating the registrant’s full name … residential street address … email address … telephone number, county and state voter identification number, age of the registrant, and the registrant’s status (active or inactive) and the most recent date the entry was changed, and voting history for the last fifteen (15) elections.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) 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.”
When members of the Illinois Conservative Union sought access to Illinois’ voter list, however, they were told they must view the database one record at a time, on a single computer screen, during “normal business hours,” at the State Board of Elections office in Springfield, Illinois, which is 200 miles from where they live. There are over 8 million voter registrations in Illinois. Judicial Watch argued that Illinois’ arbitrary restrictions “make a mockery” of federal law, “as much as a requirement that Plaintiffs wear blindfolds.”
In 2021, Judge Ellis ruled on a motion in the case that, “Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that” Illinois law “conflicts with” and “and frustrates the NVRA’s purpose of providing voter information to the public to help ensure the accuracy and currency of voter registration rolls.” She also allowed a claim to proceed under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, on the ground that political committees in Illinois can access copies of the voter registration database while ordinary citizens cannot. The claims were made against Illinois’ chief state elections official, Bernadette Matthews, the Acting Executive Director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
A forthcoming Judicial Watch study, based on recent census data and information Illinois reported to the federal Election Assistance Commission, reveals that 14% of Illinois’ counties have more registered voters than citizens over 18, while Illinois as a whole has close to 800,000 inactive registrants.
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 2020, 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.
“Clean voter rolls mean cleaner elections. This is a victory for all legal voters in Illinois. Voters will now have the transparency that federal law requires in order to ensure elections in Illinois are more honest and cleaner,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.
(In May 2022, Judicial Watch sued Illinois on behalf of Congressman Mike Bost and two other registered Illinois voters to stop state election officials from extending Election Day for 14 days beyond the date established by federal law. This litigation is ongoing.)
Judicial Watch is a national leader in voting integrity and voting rights. As part of its work, Judicial Watch assembled a team of highly experienced voting rights attorneys who stopped discriminatory elections in Hawaii, and cleaned up voter rolls in California, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, among other achievements.
Robert Popper, a Judicial Watch senior attorney, leads its election law program. Popper was previously in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, where he managed voting rights investigations, litigations, consent decrees, and settlements in dozens of states.
In April 2023, Pennsylvania settled with Judicial Watch and admitted in court filings that it removed 178,258 ineligible registrations in response to communications from Judicial Watch. The settlement commits Pennsylvania and five of its counties to extensive public reporting of statistics regarding their ongoing voter roll clean-up efforts for the next five years.
In March 2023, Colorado agreed to settle a Judicial Watch NVRA lawsuit alleging that Colorado failed to remove ineligible voters from its rolls. The settlement agreement requires Colorado to provide Judicial Watch with the most recent voter roll data for each Colorado county each year for six years.
In February 2023, Los Angeles County confirmed removal of 1,207,613 ineligible voters from its rolls since last year, under the terms of a settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit Judicial Watch filed in 2017.
Judicial Watch settled a federal election integrity lawsuit against New York City after the city removed 441,083 ineligible names from the voter rolls and promised to take reasonable steps going forward to clean its voter registration lists.
Kentucky also removed hundreds of thousands of old registrations after it entered into a consent decree to end another Judicial Watch lawsuit.
In February 2022, Judicial Watch settled a voter roll clean-up lawsuit against North Carolina and two of its counties after North Carolina removed over 430,000 inactive registrations from its voter rolls.
In March 2022, a Maryland court ruled in favor of Judicial Watch’s challenge to the Democratic state legislature’s “extreme” congressional gerrymander.
Judicial Watch was assisted by attorney Stephen F. Boulton of Peraica & Associates, LTD.