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.”
“This is not at all uncommon,” said State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “We have to return to respond to what we learned and make sure it works going forward.”
In addition to allowing voters to register either online or at a county clerk’s office on the same day they vote, it also expands early voting until the Sunday before an election – right now voting usually ends on the Saturday before the election. The law does not require anyone to bring a photo ID to the early voting booth. And it allows college students to change their addresses to their campus address to avoid having to vote absentee.
Cook County Clerk David Orr says half a million people move in Cook County every year, and many forget they have to re-register. He hopes this law helps solve that problem.
The bill has attracted a good deal of controversy because of the manner in which it passed. It was the last bill voted on in the Spring Session. Republican leader Jim Durkin says the move is purely political – to help Democrats turn out more of their voting base.
“The ink wasn’t even dry when it passed out of the House of Representatives,” says House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). “This is about power; it’s not about access or expanding rights. This is about ensuring they keep control of the legislature and mansion next November.”
But House Democratic Majority Leader Barbra Flynn Currie disagrees.
“We were discussing all of the issues in the bill all during the session,” Currie said. “Anybody who says this was suddenly sprung upon people in the 11th hour obviously wasn’t paying attention.”
Also, thanks to an earlier law, online voter registration starts today. This past March primary was the first time 17-year-olds who turn 18 by November were able to cast ballots in the primary election. The problem: turnout was abysmal in the primary – less than 20 percent.
And there is no evidence that changing these deadlines and allowing Election Day registration increases voter turnout.
In the last decade, the deadline to register has been moved back from a month before an election to five days before an election, and turnout has flatlined, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The other important distinction here is the new law will not allow same day registration at a polling place like Wisconsin and Minnesota do – if you wait to the last minute, you have to register at a county clerk’s office or online.