SPRINGFIELD -- A proposal by Illinois' powerful House Speaker to thwart future voter suppression efforts advanced in the legislature on Tuesday, a move that contrasts starkly with recent electoral restrictions put in place by surrounding swing states where Republicans have legislative control.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution, which would appear on the November ballot if it receives a supermajority in both the House and Senate, would bar the legislature from enacting new laws that would add new requirements in order to vote.
Rep. Michael Madigan, who doubles as Illinois' Democratic Party chairman, told committee members Tuesday that the amendment would ensure that no one is denied the right to vote based on their race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or income, and that it "sends a strong message that in Illinois we believe every eligible voter should be treated equally."
Asked by a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee about the prevalence of voter suppression efforts, the Chicago Democrat couldn't cite a recent instance in which it happened in Illinois. Instead, Madigan referred to Republican-backed laws passed in other states that require voters to show voter identification at the polls or shorten early voting periods. He said such measures disproportionately affect minority and low income voters, which are key Democratic voting blocs.
"Our concern is that either today or sometime in the future there could be efforts like those in ... other states right here in Illinois," he said. "Our desire is to provide constitutional protection against action we've seen in other states."
A total of nine states have passed measures placing restrictions on voters in the last year. This winter, Republicans-controlled legislatures in Wisconsin and Ohio adopted measures limiting when polls are open. In North Carolina last August, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law one of the country's most restrictive voter ID laws, which requires voters to present government-issued photo identification, eliminates same-day voter registration and shortens early voting.
Democrats and their supporters say in-person voter fraud is extremely rare and that the Republican-backed measures are really meant to disenfranchise groups that typically vote Democrat. Republicans, meanwhile, say the measures save money and help prevent voter fraud.
Madigan's proposal passed unanimously and now heads to the full House for consideration.
This is the second constitutional amendment proposed by Madigan in recent weeks. The other, which is also being considered by the full House, would tack a 3 percent surcharge onto income of $1 million, which Madigan says would raise $1 billion a year for elementary and secondary education.
The ballot questions come as the governor's race is heating up between Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, a wealthy private-equity investor, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.