There are few things Illinois gets right these days, but we can rightfully point with pride to recent strides in expanding access to the ballot box. With same day voter registration and expanded early voting, Illinois has been a national leader in ensuring its citizens have a full chance to participate.
We have a chance to continue that leadership and build on the progress by passing Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a law that would ensure every eligible citizen becomes registered to vote when they receive or renew their driver’s license or state ID, unless they choose to opt-out.
The registration system we use today puts the burden on citizens to claim their right to vote. It can often be confusing, and is unfair to modern families that move more often, such as those attending college or serving in the military. A recent study on Google search terms for “how to register to vote,” relative to registration deadlines, found that nearly 4 million more people would have voted in the 2012 elections if not for antiquated registration deadlines. In Illinois, there are nearly 2 million eligible citizens who are not registered to vote.
Automatic voter registration would make elections more modern and fair by streamlining and simplifying the process, eliminating the burden on citizens to find out how, when, and where to register in each election. By automating the registration system and eliminating the old paper registration system, AVR would save money and make elections more secure. In Maricopa County, Arizona, processing electronic voter registration costs 3 cents per voter, compared to 83 cents per voter for processing paper registration cards.
Automatic voter registration could be law in Illinois with one small switch – simply changing the language in our existing motor voter law from “opt-in” to “opt-out.”
Oregon and California enacted AVR last year. More recently two other states, West Virginia, and Vermont passed automatic voter registration with broad bi-partisan support. Each of these bills focused on automatic voter registration at its core because of its simplicity, broad support, and potential for revenue neutrality.
As a board member of iVote, a national organization building the case for AVR across the country including helping pass and get the bill signed in California, we agree that simple legislation is easier to pass. iVote has conducted extensive polling in multiple states and found while other electoral reforms provisions are more controversial, automatic voter registration enjoys wide and deep support, including majorities among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Earlier this year, we asked legislators and legislative candidates in Illinois to sign a pledge supporting the automatic voter registration bill. The pledge yielded massive backing, including pledges to support automatic voter registration from candidates on both sides of the aisle.
Currently, Senate Bill 2134 / House Bill 6211 would allow for automatic voter registration through DMVs when an eligible citizen gets or renews a driver’s license or state ID. This is similar to what other states have passed. However many amendments unrelated to automatically registering eligible voters have been tacked onto a similar bill SB 250, resulting in unnecessary complications.
While we agree with the aims of these additional amendments, including pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds and would like to see them enacted one day, the 25-page amendment add complications to passing automatic voter registration. We prefer to see a clean bill that would allow for a vote on AVR through the existing motor-voter process alone.
It would be simpler and engender broader support. It can get done. What else can you say that about in Springfield these days?
Let’s not let this opportunity for Illinois to lead once again pass us by.
Pete Giangreco is a board member of iVote, a national organization that lobbies for automatic voter registration.