Illinois Senate passes automatic voter registration bill

Billy Kobin, Reporter

The Illinois Senate passed a measure sponsored by Evanston representatives last Thursday that would automatically register state residents to vote when they receive their driver’s licenses.

Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) co-sponsored the bill, which passed 42-16 in the Senate on Thursday, and Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) was the lead Illinois House sponsor.

“To me, voting rights are kind of the essence of our democracy, and I believe there are too many people who are not registered to vote and do not vote,” Gabel told The Daily. “I think it’s everyone’s civic responsibility as well as our country’s responsibility to make it as easy as possible for people to be registered to vote.”

The Illinois House of Representatives is now considering the measure, she said, adding that representatives plan to pass the measure, sending it to Gov. Bruce Rauner in the next few days before the current legislative session ends.

Biss could not be reached for comment.

Illinois currently has a system where voters can register at municipal offices, including Department of Motor Vehicles offices, as well as online or via the mail. Currently, Illinois residents are asked whether they want to opt in to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. Two forms of identification are needed to register, such as a driver’s license and ID card, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Under the proposed measure, whenever an eligible Illinois resident receives services at a designated state agency they will be automatically registered in their local jurisdiction unless they opt out, according to a news release.

State agencies that would offer the service include Driver Services, Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Gabel said the information provided to get a driver’s license would be screened by the Illinois State Board of Elections and local county clerks. A letter would then be sent to residents asking for a signature to complete the registration process, she said.

Oregon, California, West Virginia and Vermont have already approved similar automatic voter registration measures into law.

Officials from the State Board of Elections have made suggestions to legislators regarding the bill due to concerns about the costs of implementation, said Ken Menzel, general counsel for the State Board of Elections.

“If the legislature wants to go ahead with it, we would like it done in an efficient and effective manner,” Menzel said. “Given our budget situation, if we’re going to be expected to (implement automatic voter registration) at all, we’re going to need money.”

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