Despite Hurdles, Automatic Voter Registration Law Adds to Voter Rolls

An additional 111,000 voter registration applications have been processed at Illinois Secretary of State facilities annually thanks to a 2018 state automatic voter registration law, according to an analysis by Illinois PIRG.

“We believe that democracy works best when everyone is involved in it,” said the report’s author, PIRG Democracy and Civic Engagement Associate Keegan Hollyer. “Of course, given our system, that requires that people be registered to vote. Obviously, the report shows that automatic voter registration has boosted the number of people registered to vote.”

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With AVR, eligible voters are automatically registered — and their latest address and information updated, something which Hollyer said makes voting rolls more secure — every time they interact with state agencies, like getting or renewing a driver’s license. Individuals who don’t want to be registered have to proactively opt-out.

It’s unclear whether the estimated annual 37% bump in registrations at the primary place for AVR, secretary of state facilities, helped translate to higher voter turnout in the past couple of elections.

AVR’s success comes even as Hollyer said the process is still more complicated than it need be.

“Getting registered to vote through the automatic voter registration system, should be the path of least resistance. That means … making the process as seamless as possible,” Hollyer said.

Among his recommendations: Changing the signature requirements for voter registration, and better training of staff by the Secretary of State’s office.

“Although the Secretary of State is far and away the most important agency to be implementing AVR in Illinois, it is not the only agency. So I just wanted to take this opportunity to call on the other participating agencies to more fully and robustly implement AVR and incorporate it into the fold and their key services,” Hollyer said.

While eligible voters are automatically registered whenever they interact with most state agencies, there’s an exception: Those who are applying to the state to carry or own a gun. Conservatives say that’s a partisan exclusion. A measure (HB4137) before the General Assembly would make it so that those seeking gun licenses would also be automatically registered to vote. The plan has not advanced

Meanwhile, local election authorities are preparing for the 2022 election cycle.

“From my vantage point, I feel so good about where we are now. And especially because for the first time in 20 years, DuPage now will have 100% paper ballots,” DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek said.

In a press release, her office extols the Verity Scan machines as impossible to hack because they’re not ever connected to the internet; they also offer ranking-voting capabilities, language options, and that paper trail.

“Paper ballots are the gold standard,” Kaczmarek said. “When you have a paper ballot you can return to it, look at it, and know that that ballot has been counted.”

Kaczmarek ran for clerk after becoming active in the elections process back as a concerned resident.

“Voting is always important, whether it’s a primary or general election. Whether it’s a midterm or presidential year. Voting is always important and should never be taken for granted,” she said.

In 2022, DuPage County will again offer drop-off ballot boxes — an option the state granted to local election authorities.

In Chicago, voters can expect sometime in April to receive information in the mail from the city’s board of elections, said spokesman Max Bever.

“For an option to get their new voter card, see their new district information, apply for a vote by mail ballot for the primary election June 28, 2022, or join this permanent vote by mail roster list,” Bever said.

Voters could find themselves in new Congressional and state legislative districts, thanks to that once-a-decade redistricting process.

A new law (Senate Bill 825 / Public Act 102-0015) will make easier for voters to cast ballots by mail on an ongoing basis; as Bever alluded to, voters can choose to tell election authorities that’s their preference, in order to be automatically sent mail-in ballots for all elections in the future.

Candidates who want to be on the 2022 ballot have from March 7 – 14 to submit petitions with valid voter signatures.

Early voting begins May 19.

If you’re eager to get involved in elections, candidates would surely appreciate your petition signature. That doesn’t mean you’ll vote for the candidate, just that you’ll help those candidates reach the ballot.

Chicago will begin to accept election judges and poll watchers starting March 1.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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