Will Won’t? Illinois County Plans to Fight Same-Day Registration


[Image courtesy of theherald-news]

At least one suburban Chicago county is not happy about the state’s new same-day registration law – enacted post-election last year and signed by now-former Governor Pat Quinn (D) – and is now making plans to fight it, citing implementation concerns and cost. The Herald-News has more:

Brent Hassert, lobbyist for the Will County Board, said the county should act fast to persuade lawmakers to lessen the blow associated with new legislation requiring same-day voter registration.

“Time is of the essence. We can’t drag our feet. [Let’s bring lawmakers] up to speed on our concerns,” Hassert told members of the County Board’s Legislative and Policy Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 172, signed into law Monday by now-former Gov. Pat Quinn, requires Illinois counties with a population of at least 100,000 to offer same-day voter registration at every polling place by the March 2016 election.

Will County (traditionally a more GOP counterweight to heavily Democratic Cook) has major concerns about funding for the new law. Here’s what County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots told the county finance committee last week:

[T]he county will have to find money to equip each location with electronic poll books – or computer tablets with voting capabilities – as part of the state’s contracting with the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multi-state data-sharing system that streamlines voter data records. Those devices alone will cost about $528,000, according to estimates. [UPDATE (920am Eastern): ERIC Director John Lindback contacted me to say that ERIC does not require participating jurisdictions to purchase e-pollbooks.]

Only 628 people registered and voted on Election Day in Will County, according to the county clerk’s office, leading some county board members, including County Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, to believe the $1 million in start-up costs might not be worth it. That[] equates to about $1,600 a vote …

She also has concerns about fraud prevention:

Schultz Voots said allowing same-day registration in every election precinct is worrisome, noting the county don’t have the technological means to prevent someone who registers and votes in one precinct and one county to do the same later in another.

Unlike in the November election pilot program, same-day registration votes will also be fed directly into the system as valid without question, Schultz Voots said. In the last election, those votes were considered provisional and set aside until their validity could be confirmed.

This will be interesting to watch. The merits of same-day registration aside, the fact that the new law was signed by an outgoing Governor defeated for re-election before his opponent took office – and is likely protected from repeal by a Democratic majority in the State House – is bound to raise eyebrows and engender resistance. [Imagine if an outgoing GOP Governor had signed a strict photo ID or proof-of-citizenship bill before departing.] That creates the possibility of uneven and/or inconsistent implementation, as skeptics like Will move more slowly (if at all) than enthusiasts like Cook. That, in turn, raises the spectre of *shudder* litigation that could rapidly imperil preparation for the state’s March 2016 primary.

It isn’t enough to enact changes to election laws; they have to be implemented – with enough funding and lead time to ensure that they’re successful. While the state’s decision to move forward with same-day registration and other programs like the ERIC data exchange are intriguing and in tune with the national trend, Illinois’ means of getting there is probably going to cause it problems in the short term.

Stay tuned …

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