Voting rights advocates: Jesse White has failed on automatic voter registration implementation

Voting rights advocates: Jesse White has failed on automatic voter registration implementation

AVR won’t be implemented by November or February elections; Advocates say they are considering all legal options, including litigation

CHICAGO (September 24, 2018) — Secretary of State Jesse White’s plan to implement automatic voter registration falls short and fails to comply with the clear requirements of the law, Illinois’ leading voting rights coalition said at a press conference on Monday.

The automatic voter registration bill, which passed the legislature unanimously and which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law in August 2017, required the Office of the Secretary of State to implement automatic voter registration by July 1st of this year. The Secretary of State has already missed that deadline, meaning that the landmark law will not be in place before the November election.

Advocates stated they were exploring all legal options, including litigation.

Automatic voter registration would change the process to register to vote at state agencies from an opt-in system, where eligible voters must to take multiple additional steps to be registered, to an opt-out system that registers all eligible voters unless they request to be left off the voter rolls. It would also shift agency registration from a paper-based to electronic system. As has been demonstrated in other states, a well-designed automatic voter registration system registers more eligible voters, saves taxpayer money, and results in a more accurate and secure voter list.

This July, working in coordination with the State Board of Elections, the Secretary of State implemented one portion of the law, modernizing the current opt-in voter registration system. This system, where eligible voters must take multiple steps to register to vote or update their registration, changed in July from a paper-based to an entirely electronic process. However, the Secretary of State failed to implement the cornerstone of the law, opt-out registration, where eligible voters are registered to vote automatically unless they take action to opt out, by the July statutory deadline.

The Office of the Secretary of State’s initial plan for the opt-out process would have no tangible difference from the opt-in process. Their planned process would require eligible voters to take all the same steps register to vote as the opt-in process, including additional signatures and duplicative verifications in order to complete the process. Through a series of negotiations, the Office of the Secretary of State has agreed to make some changes to their plan, but not until July or August 2019, more than a year late, and past both the November state and February Chicago local elections.

Advocates asserted their attempts to help the Office of Secretary of State were not welcomed.

“Over the past year, our coalition has offered assistance to help the Secretary of State’s office with implementation – whether it was calling for more resources, providing community feedback, or connecting them with national experts, and with one minor exception, they rebuffed our offers,” said Stevie Valles, Executive Director of Chicago Votes, another Just Democracy Illinois Steering Committee member.

“Illinois was a leader when it passed automatic voter registration with unanimous bipartisan support,” said Hannah Kim, Public Interest Advocate with Illinois PIRG, a Steering Committee member of the Just Democracy coalition who has lead coalition implementation efforts. “Unfortunately, the Secretary of State’s plan fails to achieve the fundamental objectives of the law.”

“The Illinois legislature passed the bill and the governor signed it into law because it was good for Illinois citizens,” said Natalie E. Tennant, Manager of State Advocacy for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and former West Virginia Secretary of State. “We should not lose that momentum or the spirit of bipartisanship. Other states are watching Illinois to see that it is on track for implementation.”

“It’s disappointing to see how the implementation of automatic voter registration has been rolled out. When we passed this law unanimously, there was no indication that deadlines weren’t going to be met and that community interests weren’t going to be kept in mind,” stated House sponsor Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston). “I sincerely hope these problem can be resolved swiftly so that Illinois voters can begin to benefit from this landmark legislation in the spirit it was intended.”

“As an advocate at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, I spent the last several years fighting for automatic voter registration. We met with community partners and key stakeholders to craft this landmark legislation in a way that could get everyone on board,” added Rep. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago). “Now as a State Representative, I’m calling on the Secretary of State to implement AVR in compliance with the law without further delay.”

Just Democracy Illinois strongly recommends that all eligible voters make sure their voter registration is accurate and up to date by using the state’s online voter registration system before the October deadline.

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