SPRINGFIELD -- Nearly three dozen Illinois counties and election authorities missed a Sept. 18 federal deadline to mail out ballots to troops serving overseas.
According to a count still under way by the Illinois State Board of Elections, five of the 35 local authorities that missed the deadline didn't send ballots out until October, despite at least one admonition from regulators to get moving.
The problems have drawn the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice and have triggered outcry from Republicans and Democrats, who are scrapping for votes heading into what could be a tight Nov. 2 election.
"It's just a tough situation," said Rupert Borgsmiller, deputy director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Republican officials are threatening to file a lawsuit to make sure Illinois troops serving overseas get a chance to cast ballots in the various races for governor, U.S. Senate and other statewide races.
State GOP chief Pat Brady said officials should extend the Nov. 15 deadline for accepting military ballots.
"To think that the very men and women fighting to defend and protect our freedom to vote might not have their ballot counted is unacceptable," Brady said in a statement Thursday.
Gov. Pat Quinn also issued a statement.
"The county governments responsible must ensure that all registered voters have the opportunity to make their voices heard in this election," he said.
Added Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Mark Kirk, "Our men and women in uniform are putting their lives on the line everyday to defend our democratic freedoms. What a disgrace it would be if our state denied them theirs."
Many of the local election officials delayed sending out ballots while they waited for a resolution to a court case involving the Constitution Party, which was trying to gain access to the ballot.
Rock Island County Clerk Dianna Ruhl said 58 military ballots had been mailed thus far, the bulk of them on Sept. 19. She said the ballots didn't come back from the printer until then.
"As soon as we got them, we mailed them out," she said.
St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney said the bulk of nearly 1,300 ballots there didn't get sent out until Oct. 4 because of delays associated with the court case.
Under the federal MOVE act, absentee ballots should have been mailed 45 days prior to Election Day to overseas troops.
Returned ballots must be postmarked by November 1 in order to be counted. Election authorities have until November 15 to count the overseas ballots.
Brady said the Justice Department could grant an extension to the deadline in order to make sure all military votes are counted.
"We need to make sure these ballots are counted, so that our men and women in the military can have their voices heard here in Illinois," he said.
Election officials will turn over their information to the Justice Department Friday and the state Board of Elections meets Tuesday.
"I am sure this will be discussed," Borgsmiller said.