Illinois Passes Landmark Progressive Voting Reform


The fifth largest state in the nation passed one of the most impactful progressive voting reforms last week, a move that will likely result in hundreds of thousands of new voters.

On Friday, both Illinois legislative chambers approved HB 105, a bill that allows state residents to register to vote on Election Day. The Land of Lincoln had previously cut off voter registration three days before Election Day.

The bill passed by wide margins; 39–17 in the Senate and 64–41 in the House. It now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) desk, who is expected to sign the legislation.

Election Day registration is, in many ways, the anti-voter ID. Voter ID laws, which have been en vogue among conservatives recently, could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters (though different studies have reached different conclusions regarding how many voters will be disenfranchised by voter ID, even conservative estimates suggest that 2 to 3 percent of registered voters will be impacted). Election Day registration, on the other hand, tends to boost turnout between 7 to 14 percentage points, according to scientific studies. These gains come predominantly from the very groups that voter ID tends to discriminate against: minorities, young voters, and low-income Americans.

There are a few reasons why Election Day registration has such a significant impact on turnout. Requiring people to register before they actually cast a ballot presents an extra hurdle to voting that necessarily depresses turnout. In addition, many Americans don’t begin paying attention to an election until just before Election Day, at which point it is too late to register in many states. Finally, nearly one in eight Americans move in an average year. Unless they remember to update their voter registration before Election Day or live in a state with Election Day registration, they can’t vote.

Election Day registration has grown increasingly popular in blue states recently, likely in response to the rash of voter suppression laws since 2010. In the past two years, four other states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Hawaii — have enacted Election Day registration, bringing the total number of states to 13, plus the District of Columbia.