Election officials across the United States are bracing for confrontational poll watchers fueled by lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 election spread by former President Donald Trump and others, even after Trump’s loss was upheld by repeated reviews, audits and recounts, and courts rejected legal challenges. An unsettling reminder of the nation’s toxic political climate came last week when a man broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and violently assaulted her husband. The attack on Democratic leader’s 82-year-old husband, Paul Pelosi, just before before the Nov. 8 election that will determine control of Congress as well as key statewide and local offices. With threats to public officials at an all-time high, members of Congress were being urged to reach out for additional security resources, including increased police patrols of their neighborhoods.

DECATUR — Incumbent state Rep. Sue Scherer was the one of the final House votes for the SAFE-T Act in 2021.

In sum, 60 House members voted in favor of the act, 50 voted in opposition, and three did not vote. Scherer’s was thus one of the deciding votes effectively passing the bill. Now, the Decatur Democrat is about to face a challenger who says it was Scherer’s SAFE-T Act vote that helped convince her to run. 

Lisa Smith, a political newcomer who ardently opposes the act, argues it will lead to multiple unintended consequences. 

With Election Day now just days away, the SAFE-T Act is its own battleground for both candidates. 

According to her website, Scherer was born and raised in Decatur. She attended St. Teresa High School, later graduating with her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and her master’s from Eastern Illinois University.   

Scherer is a full-time legislator who first took office in 2013. Previously, she worked as a teacher in the Decatur and Maroa-Forsyth school districts for over 30 years.  

Scherer serves on the Elementary & Secondary Education Appropriations, Higher Education, and Small Business Tech Innovation committees, among others. She is also the chairperson of the Elementary & Secondary Education: Administration, Licensing & Charter Schools committee. 

She has four children and eight grandchildren and lives in Decatur. 

Born in Brownstown, Smith is a pediatric nurse practitioner who practiced for 14 years in Decatur and now works in Springfield. She has not worked in politics or run for office before. 

She earned an associate degree from Lake Land College in 1988 and a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in 1992. She later graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a doctorate of nursing practice in 2003. 

Smith lives south of Mount Auburn, and some of her 10 children still attend Taylorville schools. 

With local candidates, state’s attorneys and even the governor all recently sharing their input on the SAFE-T Act, the law has come to the forefront of nearly all Illinois races. 

Illinois’ Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act (SAFE-T Act) was passed by Democrats in the middle of the night in early January 2021. Much of the law has already gone into effect, aside from its most controversial element – the “Pretrial Fairness Act,” which effectively abolishes Illinois’ cash bail system starting in January. 

Democrats argue abolishing cash bail will help prevent people from being jailed solely because they lack the funds to bond out while awaiting trial for nonviolent or low-level offenses.  

The new system still allows judges the discretion to order pretrial detention under specific circumstances, considering factors like a defendant’s danger to the public as well as their flight risk.

Smith said tackling crime is a priority for her. 

“You know, nobody wants people just walking in and turning around and walking out if they have done a crime that is violent, and where they could be a danger to people,” Smith said. 

“I think what we should do is repeal and replace with something that takes the good parts of the act, puts it in there, and takes out the bad things that aren’t going to help, that are going to, you know, make our citizens unsafe,” she said. 

Smith didn’t name any particular provisions she would choose to remain in effect but said she’s been in communication with multiple law enforcement officers regarding how the bill’s language would affect their jobs.  

Like many Republicans, one of Smith’s core frustrations is that the bill was introduced in the middle of the night with little time for legislators to read it in its entirety. 

“Legislators signed this thing without reading it and without knowing if it was a good bill or not,” she said. “Just putting it through, because they’re rubber stamps for the Democrat Party. And that’s what my opponent did. She’s a rubber stamp for the Democrat party.” 

For her part, Scherer stands by her vote. 

“People don’t seem to really understand that there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. 

Something the SAFE-T Act’s critics might misunderstand, Scherer said, is how the elimination of Illinois’ cash bail system could stand to help certain populations. 

“The bill was made to make it more fair for everyone,” she said. “And people are acting like they’re being punished by it. I feel like it’s, it makes it more fair for (the) working class and the middle class and the poor.” 

Under the cash bail system, she argued, lower income individuals might remain in pretrial detention for the same crimes a wealthier individual might be able to bond out on. 

“For people to say that, you know, rapists are going to be running free, that is just, it’s inciting unnecessary fear is what it’s doing,” she said. 

Still, Scherer said she would potentially support trailer bills that might further amend the SAFE-T Act. 

Like Smith, Scherer said she has met privately with local law enforcement officers and legal professionals regarding changes they may want to see to the law. 

In addition to clarifying the bill’s language, Scherer said she also hopes to see “several other” changes. She declined to specify which changes, though, as Democratic SAFE-T Act discussions are ongoing leading up to the legislature’s veto session Nov. 15-17. 

“With the negotiations going on, I want to just wait and see what’s in the final (trailer bill),” she said. “And then at that point, if there’s still things that I think need to be in there, you know, then I will be working behind the scenes to make sure that that is in place.” 

A district drawn for Democrats 

Scherer and Smith are running in a district strategically drawn to favor Democrats. 

Illinois Democrats, who controlled the state’s post-Census redistricting process, carved down the district from its former size in attempts to secure a seat for Democrats downstate, an area overwhelmingly represented by Republicans.  

The long, thin district stretches from the urban cores of Springfield to Decatur and features much unincorporated land in between. The current 96th District is even more compact than it was before, with its southernmost border now raised to exclude rural communities like Kincaid, Edinburg, Stonington and Blue Mound. 

According to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, the 96th District has an estimated Democratic vote share of 60.20%.

The project gave Illinois’ final State House map an “F” grade for geographic features, suggesting it features too many non-compact districts and “more county splits than typical.” 

“The General Assembly really divided up Macon County,” Macon County Clerk Josh Tanner told the Herald & Review. “We have five state reps, three state senators, two Congressional districts. And not only that, but the boundaries don’t even follow precinct boundaries. So in the very same polling place, in the same precinct, you could have some individuals voting for one Congressperson and some individuals voting for another Congressperson.” 

“It really confuses the voters when we have that many districts in the county,” he said. 

The 96th is the only contested House race in Macon County. William Hauter, R-Morton, in the 87th; Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, in the 88th; Tim Butler, R-Springfield, in the 95th; and Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, in the 107th are all running unopposed. 

The candidates’ other top issues 

Both candidates hope to tackle a number of other issues if elected.

Smith said she’s concerned about Illinois’ economic health and wants to ease the burdens of property taxes on Illinois homeowners. 

“We’re in a recession,” she said. “People are hurting.” 

An NRA member, Smith said she is in support of expanding local police forces and criticized state law enforcement mandates that don’t also provide funding. 

Smith also identifies as anti-abortion. She said she opposes Illinois’ “far-reaching abortion laws” and would vote against any pro-abortion legislation. 

In addition to pursuing potential changes to the SAFE-T Act, Scherer said she is also working on two new bills she hopes to pass in the upcoming legislative session – one that would help foster parents maintain access to SNAP and other social benefits and another relating to election accessibility services for elderly and/or disabled voters. 

According to her website, Scherer is also concerned with “fighting for equitable funding for local schools, and cutting wasteful spending while protecting critical programs and services for seniors, veterans, students, and middle-class families.” 

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Election workers reconstruct or “duplicate” ballots that are damaged or improperly marked. That involves transcribing a voter’s choices from the damaged ballot onto a new ballot that can be scanned and counted. That can sound strange to those not familiar with election administration. But the process is a legitimate method for ensuring votes aren’t discarded simply because a ballot can’t be read by a machine. Ballot duplication is also used for ballots cast by overseas and military voters. The exact process varies by state but is often done by representatives of different political parties.

To ensure dead people’s ballots aren’t counted, election officials regularly use death records to update voter registration files. They may also check for voter deaths through other means, such as coordinating with motor vehicle departments, searching for published obituaries or processing letters from the deceased person’s estate.  Signature verification and voter fraud laws create additional safeguards against voters who try to impersonate someone else. After the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump and his allies claimed thousands of votes had been cast fraudulently on behalf of dead voters, even naming specific deceased people whose ballots were supposedly counted. These claims were found to be false.

Whether a state requires voters to request an absentee ballot or participates in universal mail-in voting, all ballots cast by mail or dropped off at a drop box are vetted to ensure their legitimacy. The ballots are logged when sent out and turned in, checked against registration and, in many cases, checked against voter signatures on file to ensure the voter assigned to the ballot is the one who cast it. Different states have different ballot verification protocols, ranging from a signature only to submitting a copy of your ID with the ballot. Though claims of voter fraud are widespread, research shows it is exceedingly rare.

Contact Taylor Vidmar at (217) 421-6949. Follow her on Twitter: @taylorvidmar11. 

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Region: Decatur,City: Decatur,Politics,Region: Central

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November 4, 2022 at 11:14AM