Illinois Now Considers Automatic Voter Registration Amid Praise and Concern

Last week, a subcommittee in the Illinois State Senate began hearing testimony on a bill to alter the state’s voter registration process. If passed, the bill would automatically register people to vote when they renew or apply for a driver’s license or state identification card.

In promoting Senate Bill 2134, Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, said the Illinois automatic voter registration bill is designed to streamline the process:

“The current process creates an unnecessary barrier for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and it’s an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. Automatic voter registration modernizes and simplifies the process.”

According to Manar, over two million of Illinois’ nearly ten million eligible voters are not registered. The legislation also allows people to opt out of the process. Currently, eligible residents can choose to register when getting a driver’s license or state ID, but they must complete separate paperwork. It is sometimes called “opt-in.”

Noah Praetz, the director of elections for the Cook County Clerk’s office, testified in favor of the bill. In addition to saying the bill should benefit the poor and minorities – people who move frequently – it is also advantageous because, “Government can serve best with less bureaucracy.”

The bill, which is largely supported by Democrats who control the state legislature, also faces some critics. Among them is State Sen. Kyle McCarter. He cites concerns over voter fraud:

“Driver’s licenses are available to many who are not eligible to vote and that poses a problem. In fact, Illinois law allows non-citizens to get a driver’s license in certain circumstances.”

Perhaps a more surprising critic is the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The group supports the bill, but has concerns because undocumented immigrants who accidentally get registered to vote could be deported:

“There are many members of our community who have limited language proficiency that they may misunderstand or simply miss the opportunity to opt out of this process.”

Governor Bruce Rauner has not spoken on whether he would sign or veto the bill if it reached his desk. Even if he vetoed, Democrats likely have sufficient votes to override it.