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Critics threaten litigation over rollout of Illinois’ automatic voter registration

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Thursday, September 27, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Election Issues (not candidates) (39) , Secretary of State (80)
Voting rights advocates critical of how Illinois has rolled out automatic voter registration say they're considering a lawsuit because the implementation of the law is behind schedule, but Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he won't be intimidated by threats.

The automatic voter registration bill was signed into law last year. It’s supposed to automatically register eligible voters to vote, or update the voter information for eligible voters, anytime eligible voters interact with a state agency like the DMV. Those who don’t want to automatically register are compelled to opt out. So far, White's office has put in place an opt-in system for eligible voters, but critics say that's not enough. They also say White's office failed to meet a July 1 deadline in the law for implementation.

Abe Scarr with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group advocated for the law. He said automatic voter registration must be implemented properly and on time.

“The plan put forward by Secretary of State Jesse White and his office is neither of those things,” Scarr said. “It is late and whatever it is, it is not automatic voter registration.”

“My No. 1 priority in implementing the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) program is to ensure the integrity of the election process,” White said in a statement. “The system we have designed and implemented does this.”

Since July 2, White said average monthly registration figures have increased from 31,500 to 145,300.

Scarr said that may be good, but it’s still not true automatic voter registration.

“We’re very pleased that the streamlined opt-in process was implemented on time and is working well, but we can’t confuse the issue,” Scarr said. “The heart of automatic voter registration is the opt-out process.”

As it is now, you still have to sign on to register to vote anytime you interact with a state agency.

White's Press Secretary Henry Haupt said the office spent $293,250 to buy 850 signature pads exclusively for automatic voter registration. He said the "same computer programmers and other staff who work on AVR are working on many other programs simultaneously."

Despite traditional avenues of voter registration still made available at local elections offices, state Rep. Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, said she worries if automatic voter registration is not implemented people won’t get registered to vote in time before municipal elections in February.

“The system is completely automated and the information provided to the Secretary of State’s office is being sent electronically to the Illinois State Board of Elections each night,” White said. “Anyone who wishes to register to vote may do so.”

Scarr said that’s great, but people still have to opt-in.

White’s office said the opt-out part of the law – which Scarr said is crucial to automatic voter registration – won’t be in place until next summer.

Scarr was among a group of critics who say they’re evaluating legal options, including litigation.

After a press conference from Scar and others, White said he “will not be intimidated by threats” as his office continues to move forward to complete implementation by next summer.

White is seeking a sixth term as Secretary of State.