[Image courtesy of panoramio]
The Illinois Legislature has just approved sweeping election legislation (SB 172) that would make changes to just about every aspect of the state’s election process, including making the state’s pilot Election Day registration (EDR) program permanent. The bill is off to outgoing Governor Pat Quinn (D) for his expected signature, meaning that the state is about to see a wide variety of changes in when, where and how citizens register and cast their ballots.
So what’s next? Here are a few things to watch:
+ The votes on the legislation were partisan, with Republican legislators resisting the notion that sweeping changes were necessary so soon after the 2014 election but before Quinn is replaced by Republican Bruce Rauner, who defeated him for re-election in November. It doesn’t really require much prognostication skill to say that Illinois has fierce partisanship, but when one GOP legislator called the bill “The Voter Fraud Act of 2014” – echoing traditional geographic and partisan tensions – it doesn’t bode well for further debate in the Legislature.
+ EDR is still a work in progress in Illinois. Opponents of the bill seized on the fact that voters waited for hours on Election Day in Chicago to register, suggesting that it meant that a permanent move was premature. Now that the bill looks poised to become law, county election offices will have a big job in demonstrating that they can handle the load.
+ There is a lot more in the bill than EDR. Perhaps most significantly, Illinois agreed to join ERIC, the multistate registration exchange, in 2016 – adding a very big state to the growing list of participating jurisdictions. Participation will both help the state improve its registration lists and require outreach to eligible but unregistered voters. SB 172 also expands online registration, broadens early voting and makes improvements to online voting information – all of which will give state and local election officials a long to-do list starting almost immediately.
A key factor in the success of this bill will be the degree to which legislators continue to monitor implementation of the bill rather than dust off their hands now that it’s been approved. Legislation isn’t easy in the current environment, but implementation is much, much harder – and having a bill that makes election changes is not the same as successfully changing election administration. To the extent that these programs cost money (spoiler alert – they do, and a lot), here’s hoping that lawmakers are willing to make the necessary resources available.
This is an ambitious step for the Land of Lincoln – but there is a long, long way to go.
Stay tuned …