VENICE, Illinois — Officials in Madison County have confirmed a criminal investigation is underway after election judges noticed similar handwriting on roughly 39 mail-in ballots during the Illinois primary election.
Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza, a Democrat, confirmed her office detected the suspicious mail-in ballots during the June 28 primary election and promptly reported the case to the authorities. She said sheriff's deputies interviewed suspects and took witness statements.
"Election judges noticed some anomalies in handwriting," Mendoza said Thursday afternoon. "I had to report it to the state's attorney."
Sheriff John Lakin, also a Democrat, could not be reached for comment.
State's Attorney Tom Haine, a Republican, confirmed the ongoing investigation remained underway, though he has since referred the case to the courts last week and asked them to appoint a special prosecutor to avoid any actual or perceived conflict of interest.
So far, no one has been charged in the case, and Haine's petition to recommend a special prosecutor remains under seal.
Sources tell 5 On Your Side the investigation is linked to complaints in Venice, Illinois, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Mendoza said the mail-in ballots in question were all cast in the Democratic primary. At this time, there is no available evidence that would suggest the ballots in question might have altered the outcome of any election results.
As a separate matter, Haine said his office plans to launch a public awareness campaign to better inform the public about election laws.
"The election code is not just a suggestion," Haine said. "There are parts of it that are felonies."
A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said they had not been contacted in the investigation.
"We wouldn't necessarily be involved because this would be between the state's attorney and the county clerk or election authority," spokesman Matt Dietrich said.
The criminal investigation comes at a fraught time for Mendoza's office amid heightened scrutiny about 'election integrity.' She says she and her staff have been "inundated" with a flood of open records requests from skeptics who pursued evidence to support conspiracy theories about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, despite results showing President Joe Biden won Illinois by more than a million votes.
Some of the complaints came from people in Madison County who demanded to see exactly how their neighbors voted.
“To track who votes for who or what and provide that information to another party is a real invasion of a person’s privacy,” Mendoza said. “I believe residents want their vote to be confidential and not reviewed."
Mendoza said she consulted with the Illinois State Board of Elections and ES&S, the vendor that provides her office with technical support, and confirmed that while their vote tabulators use an optical scanner to record the vote totals for each candidate on the ballot, the machines do not track or record specific data for how each citizen voted.
"The voting system Madison County uses is an optical scan system. It has proven to be very accurate in counting the proper number of votes for individual candidates, as well as, referendum ballot questions," her office said in a statement. "The voting machines used in Madison County do not provide the type of records the recent FOIA requests have demanded."
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