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Last year, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a bipartisan automatic voter registration (AVR) bill. Now, supporters are trying again in the state legislature with a revised bill aimed at addressing his concerns. The State Journal-Register has more:
A bill that would automatically register Illinoisans to vote when they visit a Secretary of State’s Office or other state agency passed unanimously in the Senate on Friday.
Senate Bill 1933, which was introduced to replace a failed effort last year, allows qualified residents to be registered to vote when they visit driver’s services offices and other state agencies, such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Residents would have the opportunity to opt out.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, the bill’s main sponsor, said one of the changes made to the new bill was addressing secretary of state concerns regarding implementation of the federal Real ID Act, ensuring that the state will know if a citizen is qualified for automatic voting registration.
The 2005 Real ID Act has tougher requirements for proof of legal U.S. residency in order for a citizen’s driver’s license to be valid. The Secretary of State’s Office believes Illinois will be Real ID-compliant by early 2018.
In a state where bipartisan cooperation is often scarce, the Senate bill reflects input from both sides of the aisle:
Manar said he also was happy to work with Republicans to address their concerns about the legislation.
“Sen. (Sue) Rezin on the Republican side provided good feedback, and I think that is how this process should work,” Manar said. “The goal here was to get this implemented because, without question, it opens up the doors of the ballot box to more citizens … and it streamlines our processes, reduces bureaucracies and saves money. That’s a win for everybody.”
Rezin, R-Morris, who had a similar bill, worked with Manar to address issues that the Republicans originally had with his version.
“I do appreciate the sponsor and his ability to work and alleviate many of our concerns with this bill. To date I think this bill is reflective of what we would like to see,” Rezin said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care whose name is on the bill, or what party is pushing it. If it’s good for the state of Illinois, we do recognize and support those bills, but they tend to get lost underneath the whole budget discussion.”
A key compromise on the bill was the timing of a voter’s opt-out at DMV or another state agency:
One of the issues Republicans had with Manar’s original bill was that when residents were automatically registered at these agencies, there was an opt-out at the end of the process. Now, people can opt-out before the process begins.
The bill now move to the House, where lawmakers are expected to make some changes reflecting feedback from the State Board of Elections, according to the Alton Daily News:
[T]here are still concerns from the Illinois State Board of Elections.
[Rezin] said she appreciates “that there’s an agreement that there’ll be some work in the House to alleviate some of the concerns that the State Board of Elections has.”
Elections board General Counsel Ken Menzel said the board supports the overall concept, but they’re worried about the implementation date of January 2019.
“We’re a little leery of committing to something like that because we don’t know about the funding, and our [information technology] people haven’t been working with these other agencies’ IT people about getting their systems to be able to give us the data we need in a format we can use to fit into the state database,” Menzel said.
Other election board concerns include what the elections board’s liability is when an agency deems an individual ineligible.
“We’re kind of fuzzy as to exactly what we’re supposed to do with it, and we’re not really keen on the idea of us having to pick up the ball and chase somebody down when it was the Secretary of State’s determination as to the paperwork that was presented there that there was some problems with their qualifications,” Menzel said.
A third issue Menzel raised deals with classifying what private information should be withheld from voter lists.
“A good example is a domestic violence abuse victim,” Menzel said. If the domestic abuse victim goes to a shelter, “there’s protections to prevent the abusive spouse from finding her, but should she register to vote, the registration address goes into the voter database. This bill would create a mechanism for keeping that personal information for that person private, but as the law currently stands, we don’t know who the people are who are in that program so we wouldn’t know whose addresses to keep private.”
Menzel said the elections board is confident its concerns will get addressed with a House amendment.
There’s still a long way to go – with the governor’s approval likely the most difficult hurdle – but it’s still encouraging to see Illinois legislators working together to find common ground on an issue that’s getting more attention across the country. Stay tuned …