Herald-Whig View

Automatic voter registration big step forward

Posted: Apr. 21, 2018 12:01 am Updated: Apr. 21, 2018 11:15 pm

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do this is by not voting."

-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt

ILLINOIS soon will join the ranks of states making it easier for eligible citizens to register to vote.

The state's new automatic voter registration system, unanimously approved last year by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner, goes into effect July 1.

Illinois will become the 10th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to implement some form of automatic voter registration. That's significant because Illinois has an estimated 2.2 million unregistered eligible voters, and advocates believe at least half of those will be registered through AVR.

Clearly, making the registration process more convenient and efficient is another important step taken by the state -- following implementation of extending early voting time periods, as well as online and same-day registration -- in an ongoing effort to expand the number of residents taking part in our electoral process.

Here's how it works: Eligible voters will automatically be registered through an electronic process when they apply for a driver's license or state ID through the Secretary of State's office and other government agencies, unless they opt out.

Moreover, the Illinois AVR closely aligns with Illinois' Real ID program and is expected to make the state's registration system cheaper, more modern, secure and current. For example, those who have moved or changed their names through marriage will be registered appropriately when they renew their driver's license.

However, only the Department of Drivers' Services is required to implement the system this year. Other state agencies -- the Departments of Employment Security, Natural Resources, Financial & Professional Regulation, and Human Services -- have an additional year to comply.

Still, automatic voter registration has proved successful in other states.

The New York Times reported that analysis by the Center for American Progress showed in Oregon, which in 2015 became the first state to pass AVR, more than 272,000 people were registered in the law's first year.

Of these, 116,000 were found to be unlikely to have registered otherwise, and 40,000 of that group voted in 2016, helping Oregon achieve the nation's largest turnout increase from 2012 -- 4.1 points, to 68.3 percent.

Moving forward, 15 other states have introduced automatic registration legislation this year, including Iowa.

Of course, registering to vote and actually taking the time to cast a ballot are not one and the same. Only about 25 percent of the state's registered voters -- and just 3 percent of those ages 18 to 24 -- turned out for the March 20 primary election in Illinois, including a paltry 14.3 percent in Adams County.

As President Abraham Lincoln once famously said: "Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters."

Illinois has the opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the nation the benefits of a streamlined voter registration process.

Ultimately, however, its success will be determined by the number of people who choose to take advantage of that precious right.

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