You’ve all heard the story. The young couple in Chicago waiting hours to use the city’s new same-day registration system to register to vote and then finally casting their ballot just after 3 a.m. on November 5. What you most likely haven’t heard about are the thousands of Americans in other parts of Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado and nine other states and the District of Columbia that utilized same-day registration with little to no problem on November 4. While same-day registration took some well-publicized legislative and legal hits in Ohio and North Carolina recently, it is working and by many accounts working well in other jurisdictions. In fact, it’s working so well in Montana that the residents overwhelmingly defeated a referendum this November that would have eliminated that state’s election day registration.
Illinois citizens will now be able to register to vote on the same day as voting. Today, Gov. Pat Quinn signed that into law and other new provisions that he says will expand voter access. But some Republicans are calling the new law purely political, and are criticizing the shadowy way in which it came about. This law will only affect the coming November election, not future elections, which have set off criticism that this relaxation of voting laws will ultimately benefit Democrats – not enfranchise more voters as supporters contend. But the governor and other lawmakers say they will revisit the law after the election, they just want to see how it works first. “This bill is designed to take a look at some new ideas,” Quinn said. “We want to see how it works. I think a lot of the election authorities asked us to make this a bill that would be for this election and take a look at how this works out.”
Do voters have a firm grasp of registration rules? Maybe not. In the 2012 election, provisional ballots cast by 30,000 Illinoisans were rejected. That’s a pretty good indication that many people who think they are properly registered really aren’t. Two common reasons for those rejections: 1) The voter thought he or she was registered, but really wasn’t, and 2) The voter was registered, but not in the precinct where she or he tried to cast a ballot. Another indication not everyone understands their registration status: People who circulate petitions find that up to 50 percent of the people who scrawl their names on them are not registered, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr.