Why lawmakers split on automatic voter registration

Should people automatically be registered to vote when they renew their driver's licenses?

It might sound like a simple idea, but suburban Democrats and Republicans largely split over the proposal in the Illinois Senate.

Democratic supporters advanced the idea Thursday by arguing automatic registration removes another obstacle to getting voters to the polls.

Republicans raised the specter of potential voter fraud in their opposition.

Along with those arguments are concerns about moving that responsibility from the individual to the state and questions about whether such a law might affect election outcomes.

Automatic registration is likely to bring more young, minority and low-income people onto the rolls, and some assume that if they vote, those newcomers will tend to side with the Democrats.

In Oregon, about 2,000 people a month register to vote after an initiative went into effect Jan. 1 to automatically sign up people when they apply for driver's licenses. That could increase the number of registered voters in Oregon by 13 percent in the November election, The Associated Press reports.

In Illinois, the measure moves to the House after a 42-16 Senate vote, where all suburban Democrats voted for it and all suburban Republicans voted against it.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said the plan should be paired with fraud controls like a law that requires a photo ID to vote.

"I have at least been told that they have buses of people going from precinct to precinct, voting multiple times," Oberweis, who said he was told about it during his statewide campaigns, said in a Senate floor speech.

Democrats expressed skepticism that voter fraud is a problem and were joined by three downstate Republicans in approving the plan.

"All the time I've been campaigning and been walking and knocking on doors, I'm very glad to say I've never been run over by one of those busloads," state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, said.

The proposal allows people getting driver's licenses to opt out of registering to vote.

Democrats' push for automatic voter registration during this contentious election year follows previous changes to let people register online and at their polling places on Election Day.

Gov. Bruce Rauner said Thursday he'd have to see the specifics of the plan but wasn't critical.

"I am a big fan of simplifying the voter registration process," he said.

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