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A Republican governor who actually wants more people to vote

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Monday, September 4, 2017  |  Editorial  |  By the Editorial Board

Election Issues (not candidates) (39) , Governor (44)
Illinois has become the 10th state in the past three years to adopt a form of automatic voter registration, which expands the number of people eligible to vote. In an era when many red states — and the Trump administration — are trying to reduce access to the ballot, it’s notable that Illinois’ Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, signed the measure into law.

These are the kinds of praiseworthy moves that help bridge the nation’s unhealthy partisan divide. Rauner had vetoed a similar measure last year, saying it could “inadvertently open the door to voter fraud and run afoul of federal election law.” This year he and the Democratic Legislature cooperated, and Rauner signed the bill Aug. 28.

The new law links the driver’s license registry with the state’s voter registration system. When Illinoisans apply for or renew a driver’s license, they’ll automatically be registered to vote unless they opt out.

Automatic voter registration is generally seen as a progressive issue, with Democrats believing those least likely to be registered would support Democratic candidates and causes. Most of the 10 states that have adopted automatic registration lean Democratic, though West Virginia, Alaska and Georgia certainly don’t. An 11th state, deep-red North Dakota, has the best voter registration law in the country: none. Anyone 18 or older who meets residency requirements can cast a ballot.

This is as it should be. Any sort of voter registration holds down participation in the most fundamental right of democratic government.

For Democrats, getting voters registered is only half the battle. People who aren’t motivated to register often aren’t motivated to vote, either. In Oregon, Democrats actually lost legislative seats after automatic registration began. After it began in Georgia, Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in a high-profile special congressional election in June.

Still in most states, Republicans have taken steps to suppress Democratic votes, including in Missouri, where the GOP legislature put a photo ID amendment on last November’s ballot. At the national level, President Donald Trump appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence to investigate voter fraud, which studies have shown to be effectively nonexistent.

In Kansas, Kobach made unproven allegations about rampant voter fraud. Given power by the Legislature to investigate it, Kobach got nine convictions among Kansas’ 1.8 million voters in two years, most of them confused seniors casting absentee ballots.

Trump’s Justice Department also entered the fray, dropping an Obama-era challenge to Texas’ voter ID law and backing off a challenge to Ohio’s purging of inactive voters from voter rolls. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case next month.

American demographics are slowly getting more blue. Republicans are fighting this tide on every front, including restricting the right the vote. Rauner should be proud to be an exception.