Cook County Record

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Automatic voter registration bill dies in Illinois House after veto, but similar legislation could follow

By S. Laney Griffo | Dec 15, 2016

Springfield capitol

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill that would automatically register voters across Illinois has held up in the General Assembly, leaving unclear whether such a bill can secure enough votes to become law amid the current political environment.

The Illinois State Senate easily topped the total needed to override the veto with a 38-18 vote in favor. The parties, however, were more divided in the Illinois House of Representatives.

The bill received 67 yes votes. However, 71 votes were required to override the veto. No Republicans voted to override.

S.B. 250 would have automatically registered voters when they applied for a driver's license.

“This is part of a movement going on nationally,” Matthew Streb, chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, told the Cook County Record.

Six states – West Virginia, Vermont, Connecticut, Oregon, California and, most recently, Alaska – have already passed similar bills and at least half of the other states are considering bills that would automatically register voters.

“In the past, you’ve had to opt into being registered,” Streb said. “With this, you’d have to opt out of being registered.”

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), is very disappointed in the death of the bill, particularly since the pre-veto vote had amassed 86 yes votes.

“Republicans, in dramatic fashion, flip-flopped,” Manar said. 

“There’s a political aspect,” Streb said. “People less likely to register are more likely to be Democratic.”

Streb said the Republicans in the House may have feared an increase in Democratic voters if the bill were to pass, particularly in the coming 2018 state elections, which could be hotly contested as Rauner seeks reelection.

Rauner vetoed the bill based on fears the law could lead to voter fraud, particularly should non-citizens be registered to vote.

In Rauner’s veto message, he said, “Senate Bill 250 does not require an applicant to attest to meeting the qualifications to vote or to sign the application, as required by federal law.”

However, Streb said there is little evidence of voter fraud.

He noted states with same-day voter registration have a higher voter turnout. So Streb believes automatic voter registration would also lead to higher voter turnout in Illinois, as well. Oregon’s primary election, for instance, logged one of the highest voter turnouts in the state's history.

“Our voting systems are absurdly antiquated,” Streb said. “Registration can be a burden.”

“It’s a common-sense bill,” Manar said. “It increases voter enrollment, decreases cost and increases voter participation.”

Manar said the governor’s reasons for vetoing the bill didn’t make sense. According to Manar, all of Rauner’s concerns were addressed in previous discussions about the bill.

He plans to reintroduce the bill, but isn’t sure he’ll be able to make changes to satisfy the governor.

“If there’s an avenue that gains more votes and the governor’s support, I’d be interested in exploring it,” Manar said. “But I’m not quite sure how that bill would differ from this bill.”

Streb is sure a similar bill will eventually be enacted, comparing the current trends to the past loosening of rules governing absentee voting.

“There is a trend moving in more and more states,” Streb said.

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Organizations in this Story

Northern Illinois UniversityIllinois Governor Bruce RaunerIllinois State SenateIllinois House of RepresentativesIllinois State Senator Andy Manar (D-48th)