Automatic voter registration moves to Illinois Senate floor

Updated 3/15/2017 5:56 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A Senate committee approved a new automatic voter registration plan Wednesday, sending to the floor a proposal that advocates say is tighter than one Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner rejected last year.

Democratic Sen. Andy Manar's plan would allow residents to automatically register to vote when they visit certain state agencies. The Senate committee endorsed Manar's measure Wednesday with a 10-3 vote.


Rauner vetoed similar legislation last year, fearing it did not contain enough safeguards to prevent voter fraud. Rauner's spokeswoman, Eleni Demertzis, wouldn't say whether he supports the new plan.

The updated version requires residents to confirm their eligibility before information is passed along to election officials or confidentially opt out instead. Its predecessor would have filed applications regardless, leaving election officials to follow up.

Supporters said the proposal would cut costs and bolster turnout by modernizing the registration process.

U.S. citizens already have the option to register to vote when they apply for a driver's license or state ID at Secretary of State's offices. Manar's plan would allow residents to fill out dual applications when they visit the DMV along with four other state agencies, including the Department of Human and Family Services and the Department of Public Health.

"The goal here is to make it easier for taxpaying citizens to interact with their government," Manar said.

He added that eliminating redundant government applications by implementing automatic registration has resulted in "sizable savings" for election authorities in other states.

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Seven states plus Washington D.C. have already made the switch, according to Democratic Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston.

Camille Williams, an organizer for Chicago Votes from Englewood, said the plan would help ensure young people get involved and cut down on confusion caused by people scrambling to register at the polls.

"Automatic voter registration will extend democracy to the communities that need it most," Williams said.

Republican Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago contends voters can rest easy knowing the new system, set to take effect next July, would not hazard an influx of ineligible voters. Participating agencies would use personal information filed in their system to verify whether a visitor qualifies to vote.

"This is a data set that is going to allow us to make a more secure check that people are qualified," Fortner said. He is sponsoring similar legislation in the House.

The state's leading election authority expressed doubts last session over whether they had the time and resources necessary to roll out the original plan.


But Illinois State Board of Elections attorney Ken Menzel told The Associated Press the latest version reduces that burden by having potential applicants opt-out upfront. Automatic registration, he said, could help "smooth out" the spike in applications election authorities face ahead of major elections.


The bills are SB1933 and HB626.


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