SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The Champaign County Clerk’s office is changing their ballot security policies in the aftermath of a lawsuit.
A court case filed by Champaign County GOP Chairman and Champaign County board member Jim McGuire alleged that official ballots were mishandled by Champaign County Deputy Clerk Michelle Jett. Attached to the lawsuit were photos of ballots in Jett’s car.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz submitted a competing filing, including an affidavit saying they were test ballots used to check the printers at polling places.
The two sides appeared in court today, but before the judge could ever rule on the issue, an agreement was reached.
The Champaign County Clerk’s office will now seal and hold on to all test ballots used throughout the process of setting up equipment for 60 days after the election is over.
Counsel for McGuire sees the agreement as a win, since it will tighten up ballot security.
State law is very clear on how spoiled ballots must be handled on election day. They are marked “spoiled”, sealed by an election judge, and not destroyed. How test ballots for printing are handled is a different story, and its the issue at the heart of the lawsuit.
“It’s always important for the public to be vigilant of what’s happening in election or poll watchers or judges,” McGuire said. “And to understand that we we need to have a good election that that our public feels confident that their vote will count properly.”
State law does not specify a specific way for test ballots to be destroyed. In Jett’s sworn affidavit, she said she was using the test ballots to check the printers, and she destroyed them once she returned to the clerk’s office.
The agreement reached in the court room will not affect any of the practices the Ammons’ office operates under during this election. It will only apply to future elections because all of the testing done before election day is over.
Rietz and Ammons said they were happy to make the changes, but Rietz stood by her previous statements, calling the lawsuit “outrageous.”
“This issue could have been resolved with a simple phone call and a simple question at the onset, which is why our statement includes at the end, that myself as the state’s attorney or an admins as the county clerk, we welcome questions and ideas and concerns from the public,” Rietz said.
The lawsuit became highly politicized over the weekend, with Ammons and Champaign County Democrats holding two news conferences calling the lawsuit frivolous.
The pictures of the ballots were taken on October 24th. The State Police started the investigation in the days following the pictures being taken. The lawsuit, however, was not filed until Friday, November 4th, near the end of business hours.
Rietz said the lawsuit was an attempt at “embarrassing Ammons” ahead of the election. McGuire said he filed the lawsuit to make sure a solution is reached before election day.
“For two weeks, we’ve been waiting for any police report or comment to the press to talk about what the issue was with this investigation,” McGuire said. “And we had to file FOIA request to prove that there was actually investigations and police reports taken because it was a continuing case they couldn’t provide information to the public without having issues with the case.”