Election Day voter registration will be allowed this November at
all polling places in Cook County and Illinois’ other more populated counties,
after a federal appeals court refused to speed up proceedings in the case,
pushing briefing in the matter back to Nov. 10, two days after Election Day.
On Friday, Oct. 7, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
issued an order denying the request to expedite appeals by Illinois Attorney
General Lisa Madigan and Cook County Clerk David Orr of a federal judge’s
decision to block Illinois’ Election Day voter registration program on the
grounds that the program effectively disenfranchises voters in Illinois’ less
populated, mostly rural counties by granting “enhanced” voting rights to people
who live in counties with more people.
On Tuesday, Oct. 4, the Seventh Circuit had slapped a stay on the enforcement
of the injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, which had blocked all election
authorities throughout the state from registering voters on Election Day at
precinct polling places.
The ruling had centered on an
Illinois law enacted by the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly and
signed by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn in the weeks after he was defeated by current
Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. The law allowed the establishment of Election
Day voter registration in Illinois, but restricted such a program only to
counties with more than 100,000 people or counties with so-called electronic
polling books. Clerks’ offices in counties with fewer than 100,000 people tend
not to have such electronic polling book systems in place, citing cost.
The law was challenged this summer
in a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs Patrick Harlan, a Republican congressional
candidate in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, in the state’s
northwest corner, and the Crawford County Republican Party, who argued the law
infringed the rights to equal protection of voters living in those more
sparsely populated counties, effectively diluting the votes of residents of
those counties, while granting easier access to the ballot for voters in Cook
County and other counties with more residents.
They argued it unfairly tilts the
electoral playing field to Democrats, who tend to draw much greater support
from voters in urban areas.
In late September, Der-Yeghiayan
had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing the law favored voters in
Chicago and other large cities.
“Illinois is made up of more than
the Chicago metropolitan area and other high population areas,” Der-Yeghiayan
said in his opinion. “Equality under the law does not end at the city limits.”
appeal, however, Madigan and Orr argued the law imposes only a “minimal
inconvenience” on rural voters, who can still register on Election Day at their
county clerks’ offices, even though it may require a relatively long drive to
While Harlan and the other
plaintiffs argued this placed an impermissible burden on those voters not
placed on the residents of counties that happen to have more people, Madigan –
citing a Seventh Circuit decision which upheld a Wisconsin state law requiring
voters to show identification when casting ballots – said the additional trip
to the county seat to register wouldn’t represent a problem for voters in those
Madigan and Orr argued the appeals
judges needed to lift the stay, or risk actually disenfranchising many
thousands of voters in Cook County and elsewhere who were counting on being
able to register and vote using the Election Day registration system.
Madigan also argued voters in rural
counties have no guarantees of equal protection compared to their more urban
counterparts, as the law doesn’t recognize location of residence as a basis for
such protective measures.
The appellate judges ordered both
sides to submit arguments on the question of whether to expedite the appeal.
In their brief, Harlan’s attorneys
with the Liberty Justice Center argued the appeal needed to be sped up, because
otherwise, the “appeal will become moot after the November 8 election – and the
stay of the district court’s order … will amount to a reversal of the district
court’s order, even though the parties did not have the opportunity to fully
brief and argue the issues.”
Madigan responded by arguing the
stay needed to stay in place “to ensure that preparations for this year’s
general election in Illinois are not thrown into turmoil.”
She also argued the appeal would
not be moot, as any decision by the appeals judges would still apply to future
elections. And she noted the plaintiffs waited until Aug. 9 to request an
The Seventh Circuit judges did not
offer comment on the arguments in their order denying the expedited appeal.