CHICAGO – With the presidential election approaching this November, Cook County Clerk David Orr is calling for the state to keep its promise to fund a program to more efficiently keep voter registration records up to date.
Orr is asking the state to pay for Illinois’ membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). Through ERIC, the county would have access to voters' names who have moved, died or need to be removed from voting rolls.
Orr said nearly 700,000 people in Illinois remain registered at addresses where they no longer reside. An additional 34,000 on voter rolls are deceased, he said, while 60,000 live in other states. All need to be purged from lists of eligible voters, Orr said.
His request is supported by others, including the Spingfield-based Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
“What it would do is give Illinois better records of people that have passed away in the state and need to be taken off the rolls and better information on people that have moved within the state, moved out of the state or moved into the state, affecting our voter registration,” said Sarah Brune, executive director at the ICPR.
The cost to Illinois to become members of ERIC is approximately $60,000 a year. Funding for ERIC hasn’t been appropriated yet, but the use of the technology was passed in a 2014 bill for the state that was expected to be effective this year.
“It was actually included in the bill in 2014 that was passed and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn that we would be joining ERIC, so technically that’s already been decided,” Brune said. “However, what Clerk Orr is talking about, I believe, is that the appropriations have not been made for this year since we don’t have a budget. The 2014 bill was supposed to go into effect in 2016. However, we don’t have the money appropriated to pay for it, so it looks like we’re not going to be able to take advantage of that.”
Today, the system that Illinois uses to purge its voter rolls is antiquated, relying on mailings to verify addresses of registered voters. If it mails a notice to a voter and the letter comes back twice, the State Board of Elections makes a recommendation to the local election authorities to remove that person. It then is up to the local election authorities to remove that person from the voter roll if they deem it necessary.
“I think ERIC would give the State Board of Elections more confidence in making those recommendations because it cross references with multi-state databases,” Brune said. She said the current system "adds a lot of administrative and mailing costs to the budget, so some of those could be saved if we were to automate the process.”
Orr stressed Illinois stands to lose a grant from Pew Charitable Trusts for $400,000 if doesn’t act now to participate in ERIC.