Reboot Illinois is all about reform in Illinois government, and nothing is better for improving government than a large and active electorate.
So the bill signed recently by Gov. Pat Quinn that brings online voter registration to Illinois should have our unqualified support, right?
Contact information ( * required )
Well, not exactly. The online voter registration part is great. That's the part that got all the attention when Quinn signed it into law. It requires the Illinois State Board of Elections to have an online voter registration system up and running by July 1, 2014.
It's a good plan and worthy of praise. It'll help experienced voters more efficiently register when they change addresses. It'll be a far more friendly system for new voters that one hopes will encourage them to exercise their right to vote after registering.
Hooray for that.
But this being Illinois, we can't take a step forward without a couple of steps back.
Even though this was billed as the online voter registration bill, it does a whole lot more than just mandate e-registration. We'll focus on two particularly troublesome provisions here.
Tucked away on page 168 is a change that will make it more difficult for aldermanic candidates in Chicago to get on the ballot. Prospective candidates for alderman will need to gather signatures "not less than 4 percent of all the votes cast for alderman" in that ward in the previous general election. Until Quinn signed the bill, candidates needed to gather signatures totaling just 2 percent of the votes cast in the previous election.
It seems we love our incumbents here in Illinois. And now it'll be harder to challenge them if they're on the Chicago City Council.
Page 87 of the bill contains another curious and inexplicable change to Illinois election law, but only for Lake County.
It removes election oversight authority from the Lake County Clerk's Office and creates a five-member election commission to take over election duties. The commission will have a staff and offices that are projected to cost the county $500,000 to $700,000. Actually, the bill doesn't name Lake County as the sole entity to which the provision applies. It specifies "(a)ny county with a population of more than 700,000 as of the 2010 federal decennial census ... that borders another state and borders no more than two other Illinois counties ..."
Before this bill became law, Lake County -- like any other county -- was free to establish its own election commission if voters approved it by referendum. Several Illinois counties voluntarily have formed those commissions.
Quinn could have excised the Lake County portion of the bill with an amendatory veto but instead signed the bill as passed.
"The legislature, in its wisdom on this particular bill, voted for a board of election commissioners in Lake County. I thought it was appropriate to move forward as quickly as we can with the election bill itself, especially online voter registration. We've got to get that ready for next year, so I acted," Quinn told the Daily Herald.
Lake County officials have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the rule.
"By sneaking one paragraph in during the last days of session, Springfield chose to eliminate the voice of Lake County voters. What they did was just plain wrong, and this lawsuit attempts to correct what we feel is an unconstitutional law," said Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor. Four of Lake County's five senators voted against the bill, as did five of its nine state representatives.
There's plenty more to question in the new "online voter registration bill," but those two stood out to us.
Three weeks ago, Quinn used his amendatory veto powers to veto lawmakers' salaries. We wonder where his amendatory veto pen was when he was making Chicago City Council incumbents more secure and forcing a new and costly bureaucracy onto the voters of Lake County.
• Matt Dietrich and Madeleine Doubek are editors at Reboot Illinois, a digital media firm that seeks to engage and activate citizens to reform Illinois politics.