Illinois becomes tenth state to create automatic voter registration

Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois signed legislation Monday that makes his state the tenth in the nation to establish automatic voter registration (AVR).

Rauner (pictured) is the first Republican governor to sign a bill to create AVR, which has quickly become the centerpiece of the voting reform agenda. GOP governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Brian Sandoval of Nevada both have vetoed AVR measures.

Illinois’s new law is expected to add around one million voters to the rolls.

AVR works by automatically registering voters whenever they come into contact with government agencies like the motor vehicles department, unless the choose to opt out. There’s mounting evidence that simply switching the default from “unregistered” to “registered” in this way can increase not just registration rates but turnout rates, too.

Oregon was the first state to pass AVR in 2015, and was the only state where the system was in effect for last year’s election. The state saw a greater jump in its turnout rate than any other.

Rauner vetoed an AVR bill last year, saying he had concerns about fraud. But in May, Illinois’s legislature unanimously passed a new one version, which requires applicants to affirm they’re eligible to vote. It also allows people to opt out of registering at the time when they come into contact with the government agency that triggered the registration. (All AVR systems give people the option not to register at some point in the process.)

“During a time of heightened partisanship fighting in Springfield and across the nation, we have demonstrated that breaking down barriers to the ballot box can be achieved and supported by both Democrats and Republicans,” said Brian Gladstein, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, which helped push the legislation. “We must begin restoring faith by our citizens in our democracy and AVR is a good step in that direction,”

Illinois joins Oregon, California, Colorado, Georgia, Alaska, West Virginia, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as states that have implemented or are in the process of implementing AVR systems.

Even leaders of the White House voting commission said at its last meeting that the panel plans to consider the “pros and cons” of AVR.

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