A plan to make Illinois the next state to allow automatic voter registration is moving through the Legislature despite the state’s leading election authority having serious doubts that it has the ability and money to roll it out, especially with one deadline before November’s election. After the Senate easily approved it, the House is poised to take up a proposal this week making the State Board of Elections the clearinghouse for automatically registering voters. By Sept. 1, the board would have to conduct a voter file update with state agencies’ data going back a year. The whole plan would be in place by 2018. Similar to laws in Oregon, California, West Virginia and Vermont, the Illinois plan would allow voters to opt out of automatic registration. Democrats, including those in the House where a committee could vote as early as Tuesday, say it’ll increase civic participation and modernize systems. They point to President Barack Obama’s call to make automatic voter registration “the new norm” nationwide during a February visit to Springfield.
Some Republicans claim the measure is a ploy to help Democrats, though GOP opposition is quieter than it has been to recent voter access measures, like 2014’s same-day registration. Five GOP senators voted for automatic voter registration and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner says he favors “simplifying” voter registration. Opponents elsewhere, including GOP-heavy West Virginia, claim automatic registration only adds apathetic voters.
Estimates vary, but supporters claim there’s potential for 2 million new Illinois voters to be registered. Election board officials say their concern is logistics, pointing out that there’s no program set up for the initial September update. “It would take major changes to the system and structure of our system to try and implement these things,” said Kyle Thomas, the board’s director of voting and registration systems.