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Illinois advances effort to automatically register two million voters

The vote overrides Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s August veto.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in the rotunda at the Illinois State Capitol. CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Perlman
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in the rotunda at the Illinois State Capitol. CREDIT: AP Photo/Seth Perlman

An overwhelming majority of the Illinois State Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of automatic voter registration. If the House also passes the veto override bill, the state will add approximately two million more voters to the rolls in the state starting in 2018. Illinois is following on the heels of Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont, Alaska, Connecticut, and Washington D.C., all of which adopted the program over the past couple of years.

Christian Diaz, the executive director of the organization Chicago Votes, told ThinkProgress that anything aimed at increasing voter participation is crucially important following a national election marked by low turnout and voter suppression.

“There’s a rising electorate in this country that threatens the current power structure,” he said. “A lot of the hateful rhetoric we heard this election cycle was connected to this fear. This was the first election to happen without the national Voting Rights Act in place.”

Diaz noted that states which implemented voting restrictions, like Wisconsin, saw a drop in turnout, while states which adopted automatic voter registration, like Oregon, saw record levels of participation. “For many communities, voting now feels like a life or death decision,” he said, noting the gravity of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed policies. “We need to make sure voting is accessible and available to every single citizen who wants to participate.”

Advocates for automatic National Voter Registration Day Rally. CREDIT: Desmon Yancy
Advocates for automatic National Voter Registration Day Rally. CREDIT: Desmon Yancy

If the House passes the bill, Illinois could soon begin implementing a system that automatically registers state residents to vote every time they visit a Department of Motor Vehicles, office of Human Services, office of Healthcare and Family Services, the Secretary of State’s office, or an Employment Security office.

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Boosting voter turnout could also make a real difference in Illinois local races, which have been decided by extremely narrow margins over the past few years. This year, a surge of engagement by young people of color helped unseat Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez after it was revealed that Alvarez led the cover-up of a police shooting of a black teenager.

In 2015, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel narrowly held onto his seat, defeating progressive challenger Chuy Garcia by fewer than 60,000 votes in the city of nearly three million.

Diaz says automatic voter registration will make these races better reflect the will of the people.

Gov. Rauner, however, called the policy “injurious to our election system,” and warned it would “inadvertently open the door to voter fraud.”

Study after study has found such voter fraud to be vanishingly rare, and federal courts have recently held that the threat of illegal voting is not a serious enough justification for laws that make it harder for eligible voters to participate.