Senate Bill 1970, carried in the House by Representative Nicholas Smith, D-Chicago, will give high school students who are of age and eligible to vote a two-hour window on election day or 15 days prior, to leave school to vote in an election.
The bill, which was signed by Governor Pritzker and takes effect June 1, provides the school may specify the hours in which the student may be absent and ensures that voting absences will not count against enrollment calculations pertaining to the allotment of school funding.
“We want to encourage our young people to be engaged in civics,” Smith said during floor debate. “… Here is an opportunity for them to band together, leave school for a couple hours just like people do when they are at work, and go vote and return to school.”
The bill passed 74-40 in the House after Smith faced questioning from Republicans.
Representative Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, said the bill “coddles” students, who should have ample time to vote with access to mail-in ballots, early voting and polls which close several hours after most school days end. He also questioned why the bill does not require students to prove they actually voted, as opposed to just skipping class.
Smith said there are ways to prove participation in the election, such as receiving stickers at the polls, but there is no requirement for them in the bill.
“We’ll leave that to the schools themselves,” he said. “… This is another tool in the tool box for our young people to vote.”