Gov. Rauner signs automatic voter registration bill after bipartisan passage in legislature


Joanna Klonsky

Gov. Rauner signs automatic voter registration bill after bipartisan passage in legislature

Illinois becomes a national leader in expanding voting rights, access

SPRINGFIELD (August 28, 2017) — Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 1933 to create automatic voter registration in Illinois on Monday, the culmination of years of organizing and legislative work by lawmakers and advocates in the Just Democracy Illinois coalition of civic and voting rights groups.

Illinois is now the 10th state (plus Washington, D.C.) to enact automatic voter registration (AVR) into law, and is the first midwestern state to do so.

SB 1933 reforms current registration laws so that whenever an eligible Illinois citizen applies for, updates, or renews a driver’s license or state ID, he or she will be automatically registered to vote at their new address, unless they choose to opt out. AVR creates a similar program for other state agencies, which will make it the farthest reaching automatic voter registration law in the country. In May, the legislation passed both the House and the Senate in unanimous, bipartisan fashion: 115-0 and 55-0, respectively.

“With the Governor’s signing of automatic voter registration, Illinois has solidified its status as a national leader in expanding voting rights and ballot access,” said Andy Kang, Legal Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. “Over two years, the Just Democracy Illinois coalition has worked across the aisle to gain support for AVR, a model that can now be duplicated in other states fighting to modernizing their voter registration system.”

Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) first introduced the proposal in 2015. It passed in both the House and Senate in May 2016 with broad bipartisan support before Governor Rauner issued a veto in August 2016.

The bill passed in 2017 after two amendments were adopted into the language, including changes to align automatic voter registration with the implementation of REAL ID at the office of the Secretary of State, and adding two agencies to the program: the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. REAL ID is a federal program that tightens standards for state identification documents, expected to be implemented in Illinois in 2018.

“With the signing of this landmark legislation, Illinois becomes a national leader in the effort to preserve and expand voting rights for all citizens,” Sen. Manar said. “Automatic voter registration will modernize and streamline the process in Illinois. It will produce a system that is less expensive to maintain, more secure and less cumbersome on individual voters. But most of all, it will open up the ballot box, allowing new voters to leave their fingerprints on their democracy.”

“I am proud that my colleagues in the General Assembly voted unanimously to bring automatic voter registration to Illinois,” said Rep. Gabel. “This legislation is a model of bipartisan cooperation and will make voter registration more modern, efficient and accessible to all eligible Illinois voters.”

“This law puts Illinois on the forefront of states to make voter registration easier, yet more secure while respecting privacy,” added co-sponsor Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago).

“Automatic voter registration will ensure every eligible voter–Democrat, Republican or Independent–has an opportunity to have their voice heard on Election Day,” said Ra Joy of CHANGE Illinois. “Updating and modernizing our outdated voter registration system will also streamline the registration process, strengthen security, and help close the racial gap in our voter rolls while saving time and money. We thank lawmakers and Gov. Rauner for taking decisive action to move this common-sense reform forward.”

Last year, a national report estimated that automatic voter registration could add an additional 1.13 million eligible Illinois citizens to the voter rolls.

SB 1933 is effective immediately upon signing, but has a number of different implementation dates. On September 1st of this year, the State Board of Elections is required to expand an existing program to automatically updating existing voter registrations through data the state receives through its membership in ERIC–an intra- and inter-state data sharing program–to cross reference and find out-of-date registrations every 60 days. The DMV will implement AVR by July 1, 2018, and other the other state agencies covered by the law will implement it by July 1, 2019. At least one public hearing on implementation will occur within six months of today.

Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois PIRG said the Just Democracy Illinois coalition’s work to bring modern, effective voter registration to Illinois will continue. “We look forward to working with elections officials and state agency staff to ensure automatic voter registration is implemented effectively and on-time.”

One such office involved the implementation process is the Secretary of State’s office, who also expressed pleasure with the AVR effort. “I am pleased that we have worked in a bipartisan effort to have a law that will make it easier for qualified people to get registered and take part in the democratic process,’ said Secretary of State Jesse White.

Studies in Oregon and Vermont have shown the success of AVR laws across the country. Vermont and Oregon have both seen increased registration numbers in key communities as a result of the laws. Oregon, the first state to implement automatic voter registration, has also seen an increasing voter turnout with young voters by 7 points after AVR’s implementation.

Just Democracy Illinois is led by a steering committee that includes Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago, CHANGE Illinois, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Chicago Votes, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and Illinois PIRG.