GOP Senate candidate in Illinois plans anti-fraud effort
BY KEVIN McDERMOTT
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. • Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mark Kirk recently told party officials in a private conversation that he's funding anti-voter-fraud activities in "key, vulnerable precincts" for the Nov. 2 election and specified four areas of Illinois that have significant African-American voting blocks, including the Metro East.
A state Democratic Party spokesman said the comment suggests plans for racially driven "voter suppression." Kirk's campaign denied that allegation.
"I have now funded the largest voter integrity program in 15 years for the state of Illinois," Kirk says in an audio recording of a private phone conversation with other GOP officials. "These are lawyers and other people that will be deployed in key, vulnerable precincts. For example, south and west side of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
Kirk's comment was first revealed by the liberal blog ArchPundit, which posted a 24-second audio file of it Thursday. The recording was made this week from a conference call in which Kirk, a congressman from the Chicago area, is talking to other party officials about strategy.
Kirk's campaign said it was recorded without his knowledge. It was unclear Friday who made the recording or why.
Kirk told ABC 7 Chicago television in a story aired Friday evening that his comments weren't racially motivated. "I'm actually offended that they would say that," he said. "I think that every vote should be counted and that we need to make sure it's a free and clean election."
Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski on Friday confirmed the validity of the audio, but she strongly denied there was a racial component to it. She noted that only the two Chicago neighborhoods Kirk referenced are majority black.
"Congressman Kirk supports statewide efforts to combat machine politics and vote fraud that is well-known in Illinois," Kukowski said in an e-mailed statement. "Voter fraud dilutes votes and disenfranchises citizens."
The activities include posting observers in the precincts to watch for signs of fraud. Kukowski didn't answer when asked about how much the campaign has spent on the activities.
The south and west sides of Chicago are majority African-American areas. Rockford is more than 17 percent black, in a state with a total black population of about 15 percent, according to census figures. The Metro East area has a slightly higher African-American population than the state at large but also has one of the state's highest concentrations of black voters in East St. Louis.
A spokesman for Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan said Friday that Kirk's comment indicates plans of "voter suppression" in minority areas.
"He wants to go out and intimidate folks who are trying to vote. It's a sign of desperation," said the spokesman, Steve Brown. "Those are significantly African-American areas. Apparently he thinks that's the only place there's voter fraud. ... Why not Champaign County?"
Asked whether he thought the comment contained a racial component, Brown said, "If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck, it's a duck."
Kirk and Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias are vying for the U.S. Senate seat previously occupied by President Barack Obama. Giannoulias campaign manager Michael Rendina issued a statement calling on Kirk to "explain himself."
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