74 new voters in Utica, most from Grand Bear vacation homes

State’s attorney ‘cannot comment on a pending investigation’

Utica has 1,476 registered voters. That figure recently increased by 74, and more than half the newly registered have listed their primary residence as Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock, where they have vacation homes.

Helene Seltzer, of Manhattan, Ill., owns a cabin at Grand Bear and she took note when her neighbors began registering to vote in La Salle County ahead of the April 6 elections. In one instance, 10 people registered as Utica residents listing the same unit number at the Grand Bear vacation homes.

Seltzer, a retired forensic accountant and former special agent for the IRS, said she and two other unit owners identified 46 newly-registered voters who listed Grand Bear as their place of residence. None make their homes there, she said, and all live off-site.

Thursday, La Salle County Clerk Lori Bongartz confirmed 74 new voters were added to Utica. That’s a 5% increase in the village’s registered voters in a matter of weeks — most enrolled after Valentine’s Day — and it represents 17% of those who voted in Utica’s last mayoral race, won by David Stewart, in 2017.

Stewart’s challenger is Tracy Mix, a unit owner at Grand Bear.

“I do think it’s an attempt to get him (Mix) in,” Seltzer said. “David Stewart won by only 18 votes last (time), so you get another 46 people who are voting for Tracy, it could affect the election.”

Mix did not return multiple messages seeking comment.

Seltzer also questioned whether the newly-registered are, in fact, residents of Utica as defined by law. Under the Illinois Compiled Statutes, to register to vote a person must complete an affidavit affirming they have resided within the electoral district for 30 days prior to the election.

Attorneys consulted for this article say falsely filing such an affidavit is a criminal offense and could be charged as felony perjury, punishable by possible prison terms and fines. La Salle County State’s Attorney Todd Martin would not confirm Friday whether there is a probe into the accuracy of the affidavits.

“I am aware of the situation,” Martin said. “I cannot comment on a pending investigation.”

When contacted for comment, Utica village attorney Herb Klein said he was “pleased to learn the state’s attorney is aware of the matter.”

“As attorney for the village, maintaining the integrity of the election is a primary concern,” Klein said. “It is important that the legally registered voters of the village select their village officials.”

Seventeen of the newly-registered voters were contacted via social media, including Ivan Kostiv, a plaintiff in a still-pending lawsuit against the village. The plaintiffs say they are locked into a rental pool, formed when Grand Bear was annexed into the village, that stops them from renting out the units themselves.

Most of those contacted, including Ivan Kostiv, did not return requests for comment. Another Kostiv family member replied and confirmed he and his family enrolled as Utica voters online but said they weren’t recruited to do so.

“My family studies and works from home so we do not have to be in the city as much,” said Alexander Kostiv, whose social media page lists him as a resident of Park Ridge. “We have spent a lot of time at our residence in Utica and changed our voter registration to reflect our new address as well as to be eligible to cast our vote in our important upcoming election.”

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.