A bill awaiting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval would make registering to vote in Illinois much easier, according to supporters.
“Getting more people participating in our elections is critical to the health of our democracy,” said Abraham Scarr, Director of Illinois Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG.
Senate Bill 1933, addressing Automatic Voter Registration, unanimously passed through the General Assembly. The governor has up to sixty days to sign or veto the legislation.
If signed into law, all eligible voters would be automatically registered to vote through an electronic process when applying for a driver’s license or state ID, unless they opt out.
The bulk of the program will be run through the Secretary of State’s Office with implementation required by next summer.
A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said while it is optimistic the new program would increase voter rolls, finding money for the computer upgrade is a concern.
“The computer system between the Secretary of State’s Office and the State Board of Elections need to interface and that becomes a funding issue,” said spokesman Dave Druker.
Druker could not immediately pinpoint how much money the new system would cost.
The effort to automate voter registration was pushed by the Just Democracy group, which is made up of dozens of government, voting rights and immigrant community organizations. They estimate there are two million eligible, unregistered voters in Illinois.
Advocates said the automatic registration process also protects against fraud. Its implementation is tied to the federal Real ID system, which allows the Secretary of State’s office to screen out non-citizens.
“Unless you’re a confirmed U.S. citizen, unless there’s some basis in the computer system to confirm that you’ve provided the necessary documentation to show you’re a U.S. citizen, you will not be eligible for this automatic voter registration process,” said Andy Kang, legal director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago.
Last month, NBC 5 Investigates reported some non-citizens were being lured to unlawfully register to vote, and in some cases, illegally vote in elections due to a well-intentioned federal law.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 known as the “motor voter” law, was created to allow for easy voter registration in an effort to be inclusive, but according to Chicago immigration attorney Richard Hanus, the law solicits ineligible people to also participate by requiring license clerks to ask all applicants if they want to register to vote.
“A person could be wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘I am not a U.S. citizen on it,’ and they will still be asked, ‘would you like to register to vote?’” said Hanus.
The penalties for non-citizens unlawfully registering to vote or voting, even by accident, can be harsh and often leads to deportation.
“We want to prevent those things from happening,” Kang said.
Supporters of AVR and the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office said accidental registrations are rare. Advocates said the new system would serve as an added layer of protection against voter fraud.
“Making our system more reliable, restoring trust and confidence in (our voting process) – this gets us there,” Kang said.
Last year, the Illinois State Board of Elections confirmed 90,000 voters were affected by a breach of the state election system. U.S. officials suspect that hack was carried out by Russian government hackers.
ISBE general counsel Ken Menzel said records contained a voter’s name, address, date of birth, and potentially a phone number, email address, driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number. ISBE insisted no records were changed or altered.
Just last week, President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission requested all 50 states turn over their voter database. Trump has repeatedly claimed rampant voter fraud in last year’s election, though no evidence has been found.
Dozens of states have said they will refuse the commission’s request. Illinois elections officials said the board will make a decision next month on whether to comply with the request.