Budzinski scrambles to restore suspended voter registration after relocating to Sangamon County

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — If the election were held this Tuesday, Democratic primary candidate Nikki Budzinski would not have been able to vote for herself in the newly drawn 13th Congressional District. At least not until she proved to election authorities that she actually lived in the district she hopes to represent.

Illinois does allow for same-day voter registration, and that process is usually rather simple, but there are a few basic requirements that help election authorities confirm voters are who they claim to be.

According to Sangamon County election records, Budzinksi, who voted in Chicago for each of the last five elections, attempted to register to vote at an apartment in Springfield a few days before she announced her campaign to run for Congress back in August. However, when the clerk’s office sent a voter identification notice to her listed apartment address, it came back “undeliverable.”

A follow-up letter from Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray’s office warned Budzinski to fill out her accurate residency information and submit it before a deadline of September 16th in order to avoid her registration being canceled. Suspended voter registrations are only canceled and removed from the voter rolls after two federal election cycles, a process that wouldn’t actually have taken place for another three years. However, until a voter clarifies their status, they are not allowed to vote while their registration is suspended.

“We’re required to send out a voter identification card, and a part of the securities and protection of voter registration lies within that card being delivered,” Gray explained. “If it’s delivered to the address, the assumption is that the person that registered to vote was at the proper address. If it is returned to our office, because it’s an unforwardable piece of mail, it starts a process of suspension.”

Cook County property tax records show that Budzinski owned a home in Chicago while she worked as a senior advisor to Governor Pritzker. She left that role in February of last year and later moved to Washington, D.C., to work as the chief of staff in President Biden’s Office of Management and Budget, though she continued casting ballots in Cook County.

No one answered a knock at the door at the apartment Budzinski listed on her voter registration. Could the Postal Service still return something as “undeliverable” if the person actually lived at that address?

“Well, it wouldn’t be if they live there,” Gray said.

As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Budzinski’s voter registration was still listed as suspended, more than six weeks after the county’s deadline for her to correct the error. However, as soon as her campaign became aware that reporters were asking about her suspended voter registration status, she promptly went into the county building and provided documents to show that she’s in the process of buying a home in Springfield. Later on Wednesday night, the clerk’s office confirmed that she had indeed come in just before the end of the day to update her voter registration.

“Nikki owns a home in Springfield and is registered to vote there,” campaign manager Josh Roesch clarified hours after the suspended registration was brought to his attention.

Records filed with the Sangamon County Assessor’s office show that Budzinski is the pending owner of a home in Springfield after a new transaction last month.

Her recent arrival in town has already drawn criticism from her Democratic primary opponent, David Palmer, a former Iowa Hawkeyes basketball player who now works as a financial advisor in Champaign.

“You have to run for the district,” Palmer said, “and it would help if you lived here to be able to do that.”

Palmer called it “a strange scenario to be trying to represent a constituency [where] you can’t participate in the voting process.”

“I think that voters are looking for someone new and fresh,” he said.

“I think they want someone who understands the local issues, who’s been here, who’s dealt with them,” he said. “I’m not visiting for the first time in 15, 20 years. I’ve been living here. I raised my my children here.”

The 2022 primary is scheduled for June 28th. The newly drawn 13th Congressional District includes a greater share of Democratic voters, and it does not include U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis’ hometown of Taylorville.

“It’s pretty easy to figure out,” Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said on the Illinois House floor last week during a debate over redistricting.

“You have a high ranking former member of the governor’s administration who’s decided to move back to Springfield — I don’t know if she’s actually ever lived in Springfield — and run for Congress and announced against a guy who got thrown out of that district,” Butler said, referring to Congressman Davis.

Davis, a five-term incumbent Republican, has not announced whether he will run in the new 15th District where he resides now, if he might seek to run for a sixth consecutive term in the same 13th District, or if he might jump into the primary race to run for Governor. Davis said he’ll announce his official plans after Governor Pritzker signs the new Congressional redistricting map into law.

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