Automatic Voter Registration Rejected by Illinois Governor

by | August 16, 2016

By Kim Geiger

Democrats and voting rights advocates cried foul Monday over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's last-minute veto of a bill that would make voter registration automatic in time for the 2018 election, vowing to push for an override when lawmakers return to the Capitol in late November.

Rauner, who has long said he supports expanding access to the polls, cited concerns about potential voting fraud and conflicts with federal law. He vetoed the bill on the final day to act and made his announcement Friday afternoon, a time politicians typically dump controversial news as the public's attention is focused on the weekend.

On Monday morning, Democratic state lawmakers and Cook County Clerk David Orr attempted to keep the story alive, casting the veto as a step backward for voting rights in Illinois and suggesting that Rauner was acting to protect his own political agenda.

"No offense to the governor, but I don't buy it," Orr said of Rauner's assertion that a bill that passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support was flawed and in need of changes to comply with federal law. "Experts, everybody talked about this ... this had all been a big discussion. The top people in both parties discussed these things.

"I can find no reasonable understanding of why this would be done unless you want to get into politics," Orr said.

The bill would have allowed state agencies to begin automatically registering new voters as early as January 2018, with people having the opportunity to opt out. Additionally, it would have allowed for an immediate update of the registration info of an estimated 700,000 existing voters ahead of the presidential election this fall, Orr said.

Both provisions could help expand voting access to college students, said state Rep. Carol Ammons, a Democrat who complained that students in her Urbana district have experienced two- and three-hour waits to complete the registration process.

Advocates who were negotiating with the Rauner administration on potential changes to the bill said talks broke down last week when Rauner's team insisted on pushing the start date to January 2019 and giving people a more immediate way to opt out. Rauner, who has said he'll seek a second term, would be on the ballot in November 2018.

Advocates also noted that the bill was negotiated during the spring session and had sat on Rauner's desk for two months.

"At any time, the governor could have raised his concerns with (the bill)," said Kathleen Yang-Clayton, deputy director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice, one of the groups that worked on the bill. "But instead, he waited until the eleventh hour and vetoed a good bill."

Ammons said the veto was "in line with" a "concerted effort to roll back the clock," on expanding voting rights. Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, accused the governor of hitting "the pause button to progress."

"Democracy can't wait," Collins said. "That's why we call on the governor today to work with us to move our state forward and not backward."

The legislation was approved on the final day of the spring session in May and had overwhelming support in both chambers -- enough to override Rauner if the vote totals were to hold in November. The governor, however, has had some success thwarting override attempts in the House, where Democrats have 71 members, the minimum needed for a successful override.

Rauner, meanwhile, has insisted that his reasons for vetoing the bill were rooted in concerns that it could allow for voting fraud and run afoul of federal election law. During an appearance Sunday at the Illinois State Fair, Rauner said he wants to work with lawmakers to "clean up the bill."

"I support the intention of the bill," Rauner said. "Unfortunately, the language, we believe, I believe when I read it, violates federal election law and does inadvertently, I think, create an opportunity for potential voter fraud and illegal voting. And obviously none of us want that."

Chicago Tribune's Monique Garcia contributed from Springfield.

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