As Illinois’ Republican governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed the state to automatically register millions of voters, state Republicans filed a lawsuit attempting to make it even more difficult for people to register to vote.
Illinois currently allows voters to register on Election Day in counties with populations of more than 100,000 people. Some polling places in smaller counties can get away without allowing same-day registration, as long as they allow the practice at the county’s main office or at polling places in larger population centers.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court last month, members of the state GOP claim that same-day registration shouldn’t be allowed because it’s “unfair” and “unequal” and favors Democratic candidates.
“This scheme’s arbitrary geographic discrimination appears to have been designed to benefit candidates who draw support from high-population counties at the expense of candidates who draw support from low-population counties,” the complaint alleges.
The legal arm of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute filed the suit on behalf of Patrick Harlan, a Tea Party candidate running for the U.S. House of Representatives in northwestern Illinois, and the Crawford County Republican Central Committee, which helps elect GOP candidates in the southeastern part of the state. Harlan alleges that same-day registration will hurt his chances of being elected.
Instead of expanding same-day registration to all polling locations in the 82 counties with fewer than 100,000 people, the suit asks for an injunction to stop the practice entirely before the 2016 general election.
Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement that a change during a presidential election year would “leave thousands of people unable to vote.”
The practice in question was first used in Illinois in 2014, when the state established a pilot program to extend the registration “grace period” through Election Day. The program proved successful, so one month after the election, the state legislation passed and former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed a bill making same-day registration a permanent feature in Illinois elections.
“The purpose is obviously to boost Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout.”
Fifteen states including Illinois currently offer same-day registration, and studies have shown that it increases voter turnout, reduces the need for provisional balloting, and helps to remedy inaccurate voter rolls, an issue plaguing many states given the high number of people who change addresses between elections.
Allowing voters to register on Election Day benefits geographically mobile, lower-income citizens and both young voters and voters of color. But because those populations tend to lean more liberal, Republicans often claim that Election Day registration is a political tool to help Democrats win election.
Jacob Huebert, an attorney representing Harlan, told the AP that the intent of same-day registration is to “skew election results.”
“The purpose is obviously to boost Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout,” he said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who last month called automatic registration “injurious to our election system,” has given at least $500,000 to the legal arm of the organization that brought the lawsuit. Rauner won his seat in a typically blue state because of low voter turnout in urban areas like Chicago in 2014.