At least 30 absentee ballots in East St. Louis’ Precinct 13 in the last mayoral election are fraudulent because they were filled out by just three people, according to a handwriting analysis.
Those and other absentee ballots in the April 7 municipal election are being investigated, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly confirmed.
The Belleville News-Democrat obtained 85 absentee ballots from the 13th Precinct from the East St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners in which voters wrote in the name of then-incumbent Mayor Alvin Parks. The ballots, which are public record, do not contain the names of the voters.
The BND hired Warren Spencer, a certified forensic document and fraud examiner with L.S. Spencer and Associates of St. Charles, Illinois, to study the handwriting styles on the 85 ballots. Spencer isolated 30 ballots that he said in all likelihood were filled out by three people, whom he identified as person “A,” “B” and “C.”
He concluded that individual A filled out 13 ballots, person B wrote 9 and person C wrote 8.
“I have done a number of cross-checks and I am confident” that just three writers signed the write-in entries for the 30 questionable ballots, Spencer wrote in his report.
Spencer said it is possible that there are as many as 21 and as few as 15 different handwriting styles among the other ballots. He was able to group some of the samples in as few as two and as many as five sets, but he could not say with certainty how many of the other ballots are fraudulent.
“But I have no doubt there are considerably less” styles of handwriting than the 85 that would be seen if the actual voters had filled out the write-in candidate lines.
Under Illinois law, someone can assist a voter who is handicapped, blind or otherwise incapable of filling out their own ballot. Absentee ballots must be filed out by the actual voter unless an application for assisted voting is obtained. Only three assisted voter applications were completed in Precinct 13, according to records from the city Board of Election Commissioners.
In all but a few of the ballots, the space to write in a mayoral candidate was filled in with the name “Alvin Parks” printed on the line rather than written.
Kelly, the prosecutor, said an investigation of absentee ballots in Precinct 13 is underway and part of a wide-ranging probe of alleged criminal violations during the April 7 election in various communities. The handwriting analysis from Spencer is not connected to an ongoing vote-fraud investigation by the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department under the direction of Kelly’s office.
“We have to charge these cases to send a deterrent message and ensure an open election process,” said Kelly. “I believe (Illinois election law) should include mandatory prison for repeat offenders who aren’t getting the message.”
Democratic Committeeman for the 13th Precinct Harry Hollingsworth said he has no knowledge of any vote fraud in his precinct.
“I don’t know who has been writing on absentee ballots. I don’t know anything about it,” Hollingsworth said. “It could have been done by anybody. I don’t operate like that.”
Parks was kicked off the ballot by the Illinois Supreme Court because he did not have the legally required minimum numbers of signatures on his nominating petitions. He then announced he would run as a write-in candidate. Parks said he knew nothing about any vote fraud in the city election. Parks is a precinct committeeman in Precinct 24, where a BND review of the absentee ballots there did not reveal any apparent voting irregularities.
“I would rather lose than anyone gets caught up in any kind of trouble with infractions against the law or the election code,” Parks said.
Parks lost the election to Emeka Jackson-Hicks, 3,311-2,195. A third candidate, Courtney Hoffman II, received 567 votes.
Kelly said his office is working closely with Sheriff Rick Watson in the investigation.
“The sheriff’s detectives assigned to the case have hundreds of documents and requests for follow-up to work through,” Kelly said, “but the sheriff and I are committed to following every lead and going wherever the evidence takes us and charging as we have in the eight elections investigations charged in the past few years.”
Kelly said this is one of several complaints being investigated by a Voter Integrity Task Force organized by County Clerk Tom Holbrook’s office.
During the course of his analysis, Spencer said he discovered that there was “game playing” being used in some of the 30 entries where the handwriting samples were similar, even though the writer may have used a capital “A” in some cases and a small “A” in others. Spencer said this appeared to be an effort to disguise the writing.
According to Spencer’s online biography, he has testified numerous time in court regarding questioned handwriting and is certified by the Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners. He routinely works on cases in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2625.