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Illinois Takes Major Step to Modernize Election Systems


By Erin Hannigan, Joyce Foundation Senior Communications Officer

The State of Illinois took an important step to modernize its election system and improve ballot access for citizens across the state when Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law bipartisan legislation establishing automatic voter registration. The new law will allow eligible voters to be automatically registered to vote when they visit state agencies such as the Secretary of State’s office unless they opt out.

Over 1 million voters could be added to the rolls because of the law, which makes Illinois the 9th state in the country and first in the Midwest to adopt the practice, advancing its role as a regional leader in election administration. Automatic voter registration (AVR) will not only boost registration rates, but also allow state agencies to transfer voter registration information electronically, minimizing errors that can occur in paper registrations.

Oregon was the first state to pass AVR, which by most accounts was largely successful in its first test in the November 2016 elections. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Oregon added over 200,000 new voters to the rolls as a result. The New York Times reported that of the newly added voters, there was a turnout rate in the November elections of 43 percent – or nearly 100,000 voters.

The automatic voter registration law is the latest in a series of key reforms over the past four years expanding the number of Illinois residents with access to the ballot, advancing its role as an election administration leader in the region. The state also has implemented online voter registration and same day registration allowing voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day.

Advocacy leaders across the state helped make this a reality, including Joyce grantees Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, Change Illinois, Chicago Votes, Illinois Common Cause, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Illinois PIRG. Modernizing our election systems and providing greater access to our elections are critical steps towards a more active and engaged citizenry. The Joyce Foundation is proud of the role it has played in supporting advocacy and organizing on voting rights issues in Illinois and other Great Lakes states, and we remain committed to advancing policies that improve our elections and achieve a truly representative democracy.