A door-to-door canvass by town of Cicero employees over the weekend has U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-4th, and a candidate for the town president’s post calling for probes of alleged voter suppression.
Gutiérrez and Juan Ochoa, who is trying to unseat Town President Larry Dominick, say Cicero community-service workers visited homes on Saturday and Sunday to harass and intimidate Latino voters who had requested mail-in ballots ahead of the western suburb’s Feb. 26 primary.
The town employees, according to an Ochoa campaign statement, “knowingly and falsely portrayed themselves as police officers or private investigators and interrogated and intimidated voters, telling them that voting by mail is illegal and that, if they submitted their mail-in ballots, they would be committing fraud and that their votes would not count.”
At a news conference Monday, the Ochoa campaign called on Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Clerk David Orr and Sheriff Tom Dart to investigate the canvass.
“You need to come here to Cicero and protect the rights of [Latino voters],” said Gutiérrez, who is backing Ochoa in the primary. “Alvarez, come here. Protect the voters here against this infamy of corruption here in Cicero.”
Ochoa, former chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said the Dominick campaign had “used public resources to intimidate and suppress the Latino vote.”
About 87 percent of Cicero’s 84,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the 2010 census.
Cicero officials insisted that the town employees were only looking into what they characterized as likely fraud in the absentee-voting process.
“There were people applying for absentee ballots from lots that are empty lots, from boarded-up homes, from churches — asking for absentee ballots from places that they could not possibly live at,” Thomas Bradley, an attorney for the town, said at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said about 2,000 absentee ballots had been requested for the primary. That number, he said, was about five times more than in previous town elections.
A Dart spokesman said the sheriff was aware of the Cicero situation and, as a result, planning to increase the number of sheriff’s employees scheduled to help monitor next week’s balloting.
But the spokesman, Frank Bilecki, made no promises the sheriff’s office would probe anything before Election Day. “We would have powers to investigate but it has traditionally fallen under the purview of the state’s attorney and Illinois attorney general,” Bilecki said.
Orr, at a news conference Monday afternoon, said his office had notified the U.S. Justice Department and Alvarez’s office about the allegations of both voter intimidation and fraud. Orr said Alvarez’s office had begun investigating the allegations.
Alvarez’s spokespersons on Monday did not respond to WBEZ requests for comment.
The skirmish follows months of charges and countercharges by the campaigns. Dominick’s team has alleged that Ochoa has used gang members as campaign workers. Ochoa’s campaign has pointed to Dominick family members on the town payroll and to Cicero’s history of mafia influence.
Dominick, a former Cicero police officer, is seeking a third four-year term.