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After Sweeping Reform, Illinois Making Great Strides to Modernize Registration System

Illinois recently passed a set of voting reforms that will allow electronic voter registration, same-day registration, and expand early voting options.

  • DeNora Getachew
December 4, 2014

Illinois passed a sweep­ing set of voting reforms last night, which would make the Land of Lincoln the largest state in the nation to enact legis­la­tion to replace its anti­quated regis­tra­tion system with one more primed for the 21st century.

The Illinois bill has three major pieces:

  1. It will imple­ment elec­tronic regis­tra­tion, which means more voters will have the oppor­tun­ity to sign up when they inter­act with a govern­ment agency.

  2. It will create a perman­ent same-day regis­tra­tion (SDR) system. SDR will increase conveni­ence by allow­ing citizens to register and vote on the same day, either before or on Elec­tion Day.

  3. It will increase early voting options by extend­ing them to include the three days — most notably, the Saturday and Sunday — before Elec­tion Day.

This is a major victory for Illinois voters. When combined with the 2013 online voter regis­tra­tion law, this bill increases oppor­tun­it­ies for eligible citizens to get on the rolls and cast a ballot at their conveni­ence. It could also be a big win for elec­tion and govern­ment offi­cials because, if success­fully imple­men­ted, these reforms have been proven to increase accur­acy and effi­ciency, cut costs, and reduce the poten­tial for fraud.

Here are some more details of the bill’s compon­ents:

Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion. The bill estab­lishes a regis­tra­tion portal at five Illinois govern­ment agen­cies: the Secret­ary of State’s Driver’s Services and Vehicle Services Depart­ment, the Depart­ment of Human Services, the Depart­ment of Health­care and Family Services, the Depart­ment of Employ­ment Secur­ity, and the Depart­ment on Aging. Through this portal, citizens will be able to have their regis­tra­tion inform­a­tion seam­lessly and securely trans­mit­ted elec­tron­ic­ally to the Board of Elec­tions for processing. This method is called elec­tronic regis­tra­tion, and no state in the coun­try uses it at as many state agen­cies as Illinois now will. This reform may sound tech­nical in nature, but make no mistake: repla­cing the state’s exist­ing ink-and-paper-based agency regis­tra­tion system with an elec­tronic system should produce mean­ing­ful results.

One thing it could do, for example, is boost regis­tra­tion rates by making the process more access­ible for voters. Imple­ment­ing an elec­tronic regis­tra­tion system at South Dakota’s DMVs led to a 7-fold increase in agency regis­tra­tions. Trans­fer­ring voter inform­a­tion elec­tron­ic­ally instead of on paper forms will also substan­tially reduce costs because elec­tronic regis­tra­tions do not have to be prin­ted, mailed, and hand-typed into the elec­tion data­base. In Mari­copa County, Arizona, the state reduced the cost of a regis­tra­tion trans­ac­tion from 83 cents to only 3 cents per regis­tra­tion. Finally, an elec­tronic system will boost accur­acy by elim­in­at­ing errors asso­ci­ated with data entry. Mari­copa County, again, found elec­tronic regis­tra­tions were five times less likely to contain errors than paper records. Creat­ing more reli­able voter rolls curbs the poten­tial for fraud.

Illinois will become the 29th state to stream­line and digit­ize voter regis­tra­tion at certain govern­ment agen­cies. The policy also has national support — the bipar­tisan Pres­id­en­tial Commis­sion on Elec­tion Admin­is­tra­tion included it in a set of recom­mend­a­tions to reduce long lines at the polls.

Same-Day Regis­tra­tion. Illinois passed a bill earlier this year to create a tempor­ary, pilot same-day regis­tra­tion program for the 2014 elec­tion. This bill will make SDR a perman­ent feature of Illinois’ elec­tions. SDR enables voters to correct errors or omis­sions in their regis­tra­tion records up to and on Elec­tion Day to ensure they can vote a ballot that counts. It also ensures a voter’s regis­tra­tion is port­able — mean­ing once an eligible citizen is on a state’s voter rolls, their regis­tra­tion can easily move with them. The legis­la­tion also gives elec­tion offi­cials other tools to keep voter regis­tra­tion records as up to date as possible like the National Change of Address data­base and the Elec­tronic Regis­tra­tion Inform­a­tion Center.

Early Voting. The Illinois bill extends early voting by three days to include the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday before Elec­tion Day. Provid­ing more oppor­tun­it­ies to vote will better accom­mod­ate modern citizens’ busy life­styles instead of confin­ing Elec­tion Day to just one, eight-hour period. The bill will also increase oppor­tun­it­ies for eligible students to register and vote on public univer­sity campuses.

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After an elec­tion stained by new voting restric­tions, Illinois should be applauded for taking these steps to improve its voting processes. As 2014 comes to a close, hope­fully other states ring in 2015 with their own legis­la­tion to make our elec­tions more free, fair, and access­ible.

(Photo: AP)