With the Nov. 6 general election just five weeks away, Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney has accused her Republican opponent in that election, Russell Christ, of attempting to commit voter fraud in two recent elections.
Kinney, a Democrat who has been clerk since 2010, said Christ requested absentee ballots for the 2016 general election and the 2018 March 20 primary election. After receiving ballots in the mail, Christ then attempted to vote in person at the same polling location both times, but was turned away by election judges, Kinney said.
"Why would you request an absentee vote-by-mail when you intend to vote in person?" Kinney said. "Why wouldn't you bring it with you and surrender it?"
Christ doesn't dispute requesting absentee ballots and attempting to vote in person. He maintains he was testing poll officials to see if they were attentive enough to catch him.
"It wasn't attempted voter fraud," Christ said. "I have interest in the county clerk position and how elections are run. This is my personal experience. (Kinney) said I tried to vote twice, and that's not true."
Christ currently is precinct committeeman of South Rock Island Precinct 15 and formerly was second vice chairman of the Rock Island County Republican Party. He said he requested the ballots by mail for two reasons: to test the voting process, and to use a ballot as a sample to show voters in his precinct.
"Voters were very glad to have this given to them prior to the election since some were not familiar with the names on the ballot and wanted to know more about the candidates before voting," Christ said.
Kinney said sample ballots are available at the clerk's office and online.
"We have sample ballots that allow voters that privilege," she said.
Christ said when he attempted to vote in person, he and his wife both completed voter application forms.
"I kept my (blank) absentee ballot under my coat to see how the process used by the election judges would work, since the poll book should have alerted the judges I had indeed requested an absentee ballot," Christ said.
Christ said in both instances, the election judges were about to allow him to vote.
"At that time, I asked if the judges were sure I could vote, since I had requested an absentee ballot," Christ said. "So, I caught the judges not paying attention to the poll book. I don't mean to be conniving about this, but it happened twice in the same place. How often could that happen? I did not have to go home and get the ballot."
Kinney said Christ's version of events does not match what election judges told her. Kinney said Christ did not have the absentee ballots with him, as he claims. In both instances, he had to retrieve the ballots from home and surrender them before being allowed to vote, she said.
"(Christ) was told to go home and get the ballot," Kinney said. "He did not have it under his coat. Both times he went home and got the ballot; I've known this for a while."
Christ said he requested an absentee ballot for the Nov. 6 election and indicated he intends to attempt to vote in person again.
"I have not yet received my absentee ballot, which I requested on Sept. 25," Christ said. "It will be interesting if the judges pay attention this time. I hope this clarifies the mistaken assumptions on the part of Ms. Kinney. I am not out to get anyone. I just want the process to work, and it failed twice for me.
"How many others were not forthcoming and have been allowed to vote more than once? I have never voted more than once in any election, but I will vote in every election."
Kinney said she is upset with Christ's attempts to defraud the electoral process.
"Election judges are certified by the court. They are no joke — they are not people we pulled off the street; they've had training," she said. "This is official — it's not some game or prank. It doesn't deserve to be treated as a prank. This is official business; I take voting very serious. I'm entitled to be mad.
"It's clearly indicated in the poll book when a voter has requested an absentee ballot. (Christ) is making this up because he got caught. Why is he just now bringing it up? If this is true, he would have screamed it to everyone," she said.
Christ said he didn't publicize his experience because he is not a confrontational person.
"I brought it to their attention at the judges' table," he said. "It's an indication the process is broken. That's one reason why I am running for county clerk. These things need to be talked about; there are things they are not doing diligently. That is why we ask poll watchers to watch."
Kinney said it is not possible for someone to vote more than once in an election.
"Let's say a judge isn't paying attention — there is still an electronic record," Kinney said. "The system would still kick one of the votes out. When a person requests an absentee ballot, it is coded with a posting number. I asked one of our judges, 'Is there any way someone could get through who already has an absentee ballot?' She said, 'No, only if you're asleep.' Keep in mind there are two election judges who both look at the book.
"(Christ) didn't catch us — that is not true. It would be recorded in our system that they came down here and voted in person. It's disheartening that someone wants to play games. Am I surprised? No, not at all.
"I think his anger stems from being caught and called out on it, as he should be."