Panel considers automatic voter registration

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation now pending in the Illinois Senate would make voter registration automatic for eligible citizens getting or updating a driver’s license or state ID card.

Members of a Senate subcommittee took testimony Tuesday on the proposal in Chicago.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the legislation — Senate Bill 2134 — streamlines and simplifies voter registration, removes barriers and makes the process more efficient for taxpayers.

Illinois operates on an opt-in system, in which Illinois Secretary of State licensing personnel offer people the chance to register to vote.

Under the bill sponsored by Manar and Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, the system would be switched to opt-out. In other words, a person would be registered to vote at the time he or she obtains or updates a driver’s license unless the person chooses not to register.

Automatic registration would not be available for people seeking the temporary or visitor driver’s license available to undocumented immigrants.

Manar said the bill does not change voting eligibility requirements, does not eliminate current forms of registration and explicitly allows people to opt out if they choose.

“Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act and we’re still fighting for the most foundational of all American rights, access to the voting booth,” said Noah Praetz, who testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

The young, the poor and minorities are those with greatest difficulty getting and staying registered, and that’s largely because they move so often, Praetz said.

He argued automatic voter registration by way of the driver licensing system is a win for everyone:

  • Drivers and voters, because it’s easy, accurate and easily kept current;
  • The state, because it cuts down on duplicated efforts and paperwork;
  • Elected officers and campaigns, because it gives them an accurate picture of voters.

Under current law, applicants must provide two documents proving residence and documents listing their signature, date of birth and Social Security number in order to apply for an Illinois driver’s license.

Voter registration only requires two forms of ID, neither of which need to be proof of residency.

Illinois has 7.6 million registered voters, and there are 9.7 million residents of the state 18 years of age and older, Manar said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill at Tuesday’s hearing, which was for the purpose of information only and did not include a vote.

Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, said the GOP would be keeping an eye on concerns such as cost, efficiency and making sure that only eligible citizens are availed the right to vote.

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