GOP Illinois Governor To Sign Automatic Voter Registration After Vetoing It Last Year

Advocates tried again. This time, they succeeded.
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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) intends to sign legislation supported by both chambers of the Illinois legislature that will automatically register people to vote when they interact with state drivers’ facilities and other state agencies.

The decision to sign the legislation marks a big victory for voting rights advocates. Rauner vetoed a similar measure last year. At the time, he said the legislation would “inadvertently open the door to voter fraud and run afoul of federal election law.”

But a few changes were apparently enough to convince Rauner to sign on to automatic voter registration, which has already led to considerable gains in the number of registered voters in Oregon, the first state to implement it last year. Illinois would be the ninth state to adopt automatic voter registration, and advocates estimate it could add over 1 million voters to the state’s rolls.

“We must protect the sanctity of our election process, and we thank the bill sponsors and stakeholders who worked with us on this piece of legislation. The Governor will sign it,” Eleni Demertzis, a Rauner spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The measure passed the Illinois House 115-0 on Monday and will head to the state Senate for consideration of the bill with the changes. The Senate previously passed a version of it 48-0.

The new measure requires voters to affirm they are eligible to vote and gives them the option to opt out. 

“We retooled parts of this plan based on suggestions from both sides of the aisle. There’s no plausible reason Gov. Rauner shouldn’t sign it the moment it lands on his desk,” state Sen. Andy Manar (D), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “If he is serious about modernizing Illinois government and saving money for taxpayers, then automatic voter registration is an excellent way to do both.”

Advocates also earned Republican support by adopting a version of automatic voter registration introduced by the GOP last year. The language in the bill was virtually the same as the one pushed by Democrats, just with a different structure, said Andy Kang, legal director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago. 

Some noted the version of automatic voter registration Rauner will sign isn’t as robust as it could be. But advocates disputed the suggestion that the new bill was watered down in any way.

“We tried to stay true to the principles that had been expressed by our partners in the coalition,” Jay Young, political director at Common Cause Illinois, one of the groups that pushed automatic voter registration, said in an interview. “And we really felt like it was probably tactically helpful to provide folks on that side of the aisle with language that they were comfortable with and familiar with. We got pretty much everything we were hoping for in terms of how we wanted this to go forward.” 

This article has been updated to include comments from Andy Kang and Jay Young.

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