Illinois automatic voter registration bill signed into law; Cook clerk says will enable cleanup of voter rolls

By Russell Boniface | Sep 26, 2017

CHICAGO — When Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill on Aug. 28 to automatically register Illinois residents to vote, the man in charge of the office that oversees elections in suburban Cook County said the signature was the final piece in a long sought tool to "clean up" voter rolls in the county and elsewhere. 

Illinois’ automatic voter registration (AVR) "makes our voter rolls cleaner and more inclusive, streamlines the process of voter registration, cuts costs associated with paper-based voter registration and is a natural registration fraud fighter," Cook County Clerk David Orr said in a statement.

The AVR bill passed both the Senate and House in May.

Illinois is the 10th state, plus Washington, D.C., to approve AVR.

“Illinois is overdue for a cleaning of its voter rolls," Orr said in a statement. "Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans remain registered at addresses where they don’t live, and we can do that cleaning quite simply and quite easily with AVR.”

James Scalzitti, deputy communications director at the Cook County Clerk's Office, told the Cook County Record that AVR will make Illinois voter rolls more up-to-date and more accurate.

“AVR helps us tremendously to filter out the voters on the rolls who have moved, have died or whose information is just outdated,” he said.

The new registration laws will automatically register Illinois residents to vote when they sign up for or renew a driver’s license or state identification.

“For instance, nearly 700,000 people in Illinois remain registered at addresses where they no longer live,” Scalzitti said. “In addition, people on the voter rolls throughout the state are registered twice, are deceased or have moved. The large effect of AVR on list maintenance is that we catch new addresses for people who update their driver’s license or state identification who might not have updated their registration for a long time, if ever.”

AVR’s two components are updating and sharing voter registration information as well registering voters, Scalzitti said.

“The AVR law requires that the state Board of Elections share voter registration information with the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, and the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address database while updating and crosschecking that information,” Scalzitti said. “The Board of Elections then must share the findings with election authorities across the state, such as the Cook County Clerk’s office, to ensure that the voter registration information is accurate and as up-to-date as it can be. We have already been doing that, but the AVR law puts Illinois’ participation into law.”

Scalzitti said the only change to the current system is the AVR law will presume residents want to register, but will be given a choice to opt out.

The automatic voter registration component goes into effect on July 1, 2018, at Illinois Secretary of State service facilities.

AVR puts the onus of updating voter registration on the government, not the voter, Scalzitti said.

“If you move and fill out a change of address form with the post office, you will not need to re-register to vote at your new address, as that change of address information is shared with the state Board of Elections, which passes the updated information on to your local election authority,” Scalzitti said. “Hopefully, this will also have an effect at the polling place with much less time spent verifying voter registration information, so lines will be shorter, and the check-in process will go faster.”

According to Scalzitti, residents can register to vote online through the Illinois State Board of Elections website or in-person at any of the Cook County Clerk’s offices, at a village, city or township clerk office, at voter registration drives at schools or at the Secretary of State’s office when renewing a driver’s license or state identification card. Under the law, citizens can also register to vote at a polling place during early voting and even on Election Day.

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