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