CHICAGO – From Election Day registration to more time to cast early ballots, Illinois voters could see fewer restrictions in November under a measure Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign into law.
Democrats pushed the legislation last month on the second-to-last day of the spring session with the idea that it would boost voter turnout. However, Illinois Republicans claim it is part of a larger effort to increase Democrats’ numbers at the polls in a competitive election, namely Quinn’s bid for a second full term against Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.
The proposal, which follows abysmal voter turnout in the March primary, comes as a record number of voter questions also could appear on the November ballot. That includes a signature-driven effort for term limits backed by Rauner to poll-style questions pushed by Democrats that wouldn’t affect policy. The topics include minimum wage, birth control and a tax on millionaires.
Quinn favors the same-day voter registration plan as a way to remove barriers for voters. He dismissed claims Wednesday that the plan was an effort to pump up Democrats’ votes.
“I think that’s baloney. We should ... find every way possible to encourage people to participate in the process,” he told reporters in Chicago. “This is the essence of American citizenship.”
Ten states and Washington D.C., allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several other Democratic-led states have approved plans expanding same-day registration or early voting.
The Illinois plan, in addition to Election Day registration, would extend the early voting period by a day to the Sunday before the election and remove the photo identification requirement for in-person early voting. It also would let Illinois’ public universities set up a campus location for in-person absentee voting on Election Day.
The new rules would only apply to the November election, but bill sponsors said they’ll extend it if things go smoothly. They added that the bill follows other recent Illinois laws aimed at improving turnout. This year, 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the March primary election if they turned 18 by the general. Also, a law that’ll allow online voter registration takes effect next month.
“I’d prefer to be on the side to make it easier for those who are legally permitted to vote rather than folks who erect artificial barriers,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat who’s a sponsor.
However, Republicans who lined up against the bill pointed to other voter-focused efforts this year, namely the possibility of seven ballot measures that could be up for consideration, most of spearheaded by Democrats. They include four proposals to alter Illinois’ constitution and three poll-style questions. Election officials certify ballots later this summer.
Republicans in other states have expressed concerns about voter fraud, particularly without photo identification. And GOP-controlled legislatures in states including Wisconsin have taken recent steps to limit early voting by limiting the days it’s available.
“The Democrats, they are going to try and get whoever will vote for them to the polls, said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican who voted against the Illinois plan. “Let’s get as many people to the polls who ... really care about America and understand what’s going on rather than people who have no clue what’s going on.”
So far, Rauner, a venture capitalist from Winnetka seeking public office for the first time, hasn’t spoken at length about the measure, aside from saying he supports efforts to improve turnout. A campaign spokesman said Rauner was reviewing the bill.
Experts say there’s a link between increased voter turnout and same-day registration and extended early voting.
But the research around partisan politics isn’t so clear. The association – that early voting and same-day registration helps Democrats and hurts Republicans – exists largely because of President Barack Obama’s unprecedented use of early voting for victories in 2008 and 2012.
The rhetoric in Illinois simply represents a “clash of principles” said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor.
“The idea that there’s value on participation and the competing value is you have to maintain the integrity of the process,” he said. “There’s definitely a partisan dimension.”