Crusader staff report
It’s official. Many Illinois residents will soon be registered voters. After a year of challenges, Governor Rauner on Monday, August 28 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville, signed into legislation a new law that will automatically register residents to vote when they obtain their driver’s license or state ID. Overall, Illinois is the second biggest state in the electoral college to enact automatic voter registration. Illinois becomes the tenth state to join a movement that’s gaining steam as President Donald Trump and conservatives attack voter registration rolls across the country.
Now, many Illinois residents will have the right to participate in a time-honored freedom that has made America one of the world’s great democracies.
But for minorities, including Blacks, the question is, will many new voters dare to take the next step and actually vote?
States with similar legislations have experienced increased voter participation, but it’s unclear how automatic voter registration will boost turnout among Blacks.
With disillusionment growing in a fragmented political system that has traditionally favored whites, automatic voter registration may prove to be just half the solution to a problem that has kept many Blacks in Illinois and America from going to the polls. Although Blacks turned out in record number to elect former President Barack Obama, historically, Black leaders and political candidates have struggled to get Blacks –especially millennials– to get out and vote.
But for lawmakers, the new law is at least a step in the right direction.
“This is good bipartisan legislation and it addresses the fundamental fact that the right to vote is foundational for the rights of Americans in our Democracy,” Rauner said at a Chicago bill signing ceremony attended by supporters. “We as a people need to do everything we can to knock down barriers, remove hurdles for all those who are eligible to vote, to be able to vote.”
Most of the changes will take place ahead of the November 2018 election. Rauner is seeking a second term against a field that includes billionaire Jay “J.B.” Pritzker and Chris Kennedy. The changes include a major update of voter files and registrations through the Secretary of State’s offices, which in Illinois provides motor vehicle services for drivers.
Rauner vetoed the bill last year after expressing concerns of voter fraud, while opponents feared the automatic voter registration will sign up ineligible voters, including immigrants. Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Illinois Legislature made changes to the bill that satisfied Rauner.
Voting experts says there’s nothing to worry about. Supporters believe the new law will boost voter participation and save money, as well as modernize voting systems that in recent years, have been fraught with confusion and disorganization.
Oregon saw a surge of new voters after it became the first state to automatically register voters in 2015. Alaska, California, Colorado, Vermont and West Virginia have adopted similar laws. Nearly two dozen other states are considering similar automatic voter registration laws.
Under the new law in Illinois, eligible individuals will be automatically registered unless they opt out when they visit Secretary of State’s offices for driver’s licenses services, and other state agencies. The new automatic voter registration law takes effect immediately, but will be implemented in phases and before the 2018 election season.
“We’ll have more people registered everywhere in Illinois. We’ll have less paperwork. We’ll have fewer people trying to figure out last-minute registrations in the final weeks before an election,” Chicago Board of Election Commissioner Jonathan Swain said in a statement. “Everybody wins in this system.”