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Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017 12:07 am

Automatic voter registration bill becomes law


Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 1933 into law this week. The new law seeks to reform voter registration practices, allowing eligible Illinois citizens to automatically register to vote during routine interactions with state agencies ranging from the secretary of state’s office to the Department of Natural Resources. The legislation passed the House 115-0 and the Senate 55-0. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, introduced the bill in 2015. Proponents estimate it will eventually bring one million new eligible voters onto the voter rolls in Illinois.

Some have expressed surprise that Rauner would sign such a seemingly progressive bill. “There’s a popular notion that easier registration pays off with greater turnouts for Democrats,” observed Brian Gaines, political science professor at University of Illinois Urbana. “But if the standard Republican argument about voter registration is about fraud, the onus is on them to prove fraud is happening – and for Rauner I think that is a hard position to defend.”

Kent Redfield, emeritus political science professor at University of Illinois Springfield, pointed out that Rauner’s earlier amendatory veto of the bill, in which he added IDNR and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to the agencies where voters could be automatically registered, made the bill more attractive to his conservative base. “A person renewing a hunting license might have a different demographic than people interacting with a social service agency,” he said. “Certainly from the governor’s standpoint, he’s looking for reasons that voters would give him four more years. This bill will eventually end up as a line on a mailer. It’s a positive thing to make it easier to register to vote and you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining it.”

Rep. Gabel, who helped introduce the bill, is pleased with the result. “It was an impressive coalition that worked on this bill and many legislators were very active in the process,” she said, adding that she feels it is incumbent upon lawmakers to ensure “that everybody who is eligible is registered and everybody who wants to vote, votes.”

Gabel said she believes that the new law will make the voter registration system more efficient and secure, while increasing access to the ballot box. As for Rauner’s signing of the bill – one of a few somewhat left-leaning laws he has signed in recent weeks, also including the Trust Act (SB 31), which forbids law enforcement to detain individuals solely based on immigration status and House Bill 1785, which allows transgender people to more easily change their official gender designation – might simply be a matter of playing the percentages. “This General Assembly passed many, many progressive bills that ended up on the governor’s desk – perhaps he felt like he couldn’t veto all of them.”  

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.


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