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updated: 4/8/2014 6:25 PM

GOP leader supports voter rights amendment

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  • Jim Durkin

    Jim Durkin

  • Michael Madigan

    Michael Madigan

Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- The decision of Illinois' top House Republican to co-sponsor a plan to enshrine into the state constitution language specifically preventing discrimination in voting comes in sharp relief when compared with moves in neighboring GOP-dominated states to toughen restrictions.

Jim Durkin told The Associated Press on Tuesday the state party has "had an identity crisis for many years now." He said he believes it's important for people to know Republicans believe Illinois residents who are citizens should not denied the right to vote.

"Republicans, we're going to win with addition," Durkin said. "We need to dispel some of the notions that have been hanging over the GOP for years, that we're a party of white suburban men. For me this was an easy decision."

Durkin said he met with Democratic House speaker Michael Madigan, who introduced the constitutional amendment, during recent negotiations on overhauling two of Chicago's pension funds. The House approved that legislation on Tuesday.

The amendment to the Illinois constitution would ensure that no one is denied the right to vote based on their race, color, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or income. It needs to be approved by three-fifths margins in both chambers to appear on the November ballot. The House passed the measure by a 107-5 vote Tuesday.

Madigan, the state's longtime House Speaker, celebrated Durkin's move to co-sponsor the proposal, likening him to U.S. Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, a Pekin Republican, who was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Nine states have passed measures placing restrictions on voters in the last year. This winter, Republican-controlled legislatures in Wisconsin and Ohio adopted measures limiting when polls are open.

Nationally, 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. A number of Republicans, meanwhile, say the measures save money and help prevent voter fraud.

Madigan's proposal is now being considered in the Senate.

The ballot question comes as the governor's race is heating up between Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, a wealthy private-equity investor, and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Both Madigan's proposal and one by Rauner to limit the terms of lawmakers are expected to drive turnout for their respective parties.

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