By Sophia Tareen
CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a measure Monday allowing automatic voter registration in Illinois, a move that comes a year after he rejected a similar measure over concerns about voter fraud.
Illinois joins more than half a dozen other states with some form of automatic voter registration, which proponents say boosts civic participation.
“This is good bipartisan legislation and it addresses the fundamental fact that the right to vote is foundational for the rights of Americans in our Democracy,” Rauner said at a Chicago bill signing ceremony attended by supporters. “We as a people need to do everything we can to knock down barriers, remove hurdles for all those who are eligible to vote, to be able to vote.”
He said the new law addressed his concerns about fraud and errors.
Under the new Illinois law, eligible individuals will be automatically registered unless they opt out when they visit Secretary of State’s offices for drivers’ licenses services and other state agencies. The measure had wide bipartisan support in the Democrat-majority Legislature.
The law takes effect immediately, but will be implemented in phases.
Most of the changes will take place ahead of the November 2018 election when Rauner is seeking a second term, including a major update of voter files and registrations through the Secretary of State’s offices, which in Illinois provides motor services for drivers. Other agencies will be on board by July 2019.
Legislators approved a previous version of the bill last year, but Rauner vetoed it over concerns it didn’t do enough to safeguard against voter fraud.
Supporters, including election officials and public interest groups statewide, said it’ll modernize the system, save money and improve turnout in elections.
“We’ll have more people registered everywhere in Illinois. We’ll have less paperwork. We’ll have fewer people trying to figure out last-minute registrations in the final weeks before an election,” Chicago Election Board Commissioner Jonathan Swain said in a statement. “Everybody wins in this system.”
Some opponents had initially raised concerns about it leading to registering ineligible people.
Voting experts have said there isn’t widespread election fraud in the country. But the new Illinois law comes as President Donald Trump has appointed a commission to probe the integrity of the voting system, including practices that “could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting.” Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and state election systems prompted concerns about U.S. election security.
Oregon became the first state to automatically register voters with a 2015 law. It led to a surge in new voters last year. Other states including California, Vermont and West Virginia have adopted similar laws, with roughly two dozen other states considering automatic voter registration measures.