Illinois lawmakers pass bipartisan automatic voter registration bill

Illinois could be the next state to approve automatic voter registration (AVR), a reform with the potential to dramatically expand access to the voter rolls.

Here’s what’s especially noteworthy: At least in many states, legislative support for AVR has run along partisan lines, with Democrats for and Republicans against. But a bipartisan AVR bill unanimously passed the Illinois state House Monday by a vote of 115-0. It had passed the Senate by a 48-0 vote. To become law, the bill must now go back to the Senate, then be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.

Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for Rauner, didn’t immediately respond to the Daily Democracy’s request for comment on the bill. But given the level of bipartisan support for the measure, it would be a surprise if Rauner didn’t sign it.

AVR takes the burden of registering to vote off of voters and puts it onto the government. It works by automatically registering people to vote, unless they choose to opt out, when they come into contact with the state motor vehicles department, or sometimes other government agencies.

Rauner vetoed an AVR bill last year, claiming that it could lead to illegal voting, though that hasn’t been a problem so far in other states that have adopted the policy.

State Rep. Mike Fortner, a Republican, told the AP the new bill addresses everyone’s concerns. It requires applicants to positively affirm they’re eligible to vote, and it requires that people be given the chance to opt out at the time when they come in contact with the government agency that triggers the registration. (All existing AVR systems allow voters to opt out at some point in the process).

In a statement issued earlier this month to The Chicago Tribune, Demertzis said: “We continue to work with stakeholders to address concerns with the legislation that passed last year. We hope our remaining concerns will be addressed in the House.”

Five states, including California, have passed AVR since 2015 (Alaska did so via voter initiative), and three more, Connecticut, Georgia, and Colorado, have begun implementing it without legislation.

Most evidence suggests that the new voters who AVR would bring into the process are disproportionately younger and non-white, and therefore are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. Indeed, support for AVR has become a consensus position of the Democratic party. But in addition to Rauner, two other GOP governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Brian Sandoval of Nevada have vetoed AVR bills.


Photo: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (Creative Commons)


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