Automatic voter registration veto could be overturned
October 8, 2016
“I am confident that Automatic Voter Registration will soon become the law in Illinois,” said Congressman Danny Davis, making it easier and allowing more people to vote.

“I am confident that Automatic Voter Registration will soon become the law in Illinois,” said Congressman Danny Davis, making it easier and allowing more people to vote.

By Monica M. Walk

Overturning Governor Bruce Rauner’s August veto of an automatic voter registration (AVR) bill passed by both houses of the Illinois General Assembly is not a sure outcome, despite bipartisan support of the bill (SB250) by both Republican and Democratic legislators.

“Governor Rauner makes it clear he will attack those not in agreement; some Republicans will ‘peel off’ over a veto” and not vote to override it, said Cook County Clerk David Orr, an AVR bill proponent.

“This is good legislation,” Orr noted. “It cleans the rolls and protects people. But it’s tough to fight a veto.”

Senate Bill 250, sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Decatur) and in the House by State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), passed the legislature in May with broad bipartisan support: 86-30 in the House, 50-7 in the Senate. Rauner vetoed the bill Aug. 12. Legislators are scheduled to reconvene and consider an override in mid-November.

The legislation would make both registering to vote and updating voter registration automatic when individuals apply for a new or updated driver’s license at Illinois Secretary of State facilities.

It also would expand the registration system to allow individuals to register to vote whenever they conduct business or interact with the State’s Department of Human Services, Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Department of Employment Security, and Department on Aging. Individuals would be free to opt out of registration if they wish.

Currently, Illinois voter registration is “opt in”—citizens seeking services at these sites are asked if they would like to register to vote or update voter registration rather than having their updated information automatically shared for voter registration purposes.

Rauner veto questioned
In his written veto response statement, Rauner cited concerns about conflict with Federal law and potential voting fraud. Rauner also wrote that the transition to AVR would make Illinois one of the first states in the nation to use such a system. At the time of the veto, five other states already had approved AVR.

“The legislation had very substantial bipartisan support and was supported by the Secretary of State, State Board of Elections, and many local election authorities — the people and agencies who are entrusted under State law to ensure that our elections are conducted in accordance with the law, making Governor Rauner’s supposed objections to the bill even more puzzling,” said Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-7th District), another AVR bill proponent.

He added that, if the legislation were implemented, it could add up to two million Illinoisans to the voter rolls.

“Study after study has demonstrated that in-person voter fraud such as the Governor invokes in his veto is a myth,” said Davis. Citing the Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth report from the Brennan Center for Justice (, Davis said, “Most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud and found incident rates between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.

“Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American ‘will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls,’” Davis said.

Cook County Clerk David Orr has advocated strongly for the Illinois General Assembly’s overriding Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of automatic voter registration.

Cook County Clerk David Orr has advocated strongly for the Illinois General Assembly’s overriding
Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of automatic voter registration.

Just Democracy fights for bill
In addition to bipartisan support by State politicians, the bill has won support from and promotion by organizations throughout Illinois. More than 50 groups statewide signed on to support the campaign promoted by Just Democracy Illinois, a coalition of community groups, which defined AVR as “using reliable information already in State databases to register eligible citizens to vote or update their voter registration status.”

The groups worked for seven months with policymakers and legislators from both sides of the aisle to get this bill passed, according to Kathleen Yang-Clayton of Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Chicago, one of the statewide supportive groups.

“At any time the Governor could have raised his concerns with SB250, but instead he waited until the 11th hour and vetoed a good bill,” Yang-Clayton said. “This veto signifies a step backwards for voting rights in Illinois.”

After the veto, Just Democracy Illinois leaders released a statement: “The Governor has said that he is ‘a big fan of simplifying the voter registration process,’ but his actions show otherwise. Because of this veto, important initial measures to clean up Illinois voter lists will not go into effect before the November election—a missed opportunity to ensure a smoother Election Day for voters and elections officials.”

Just Democracy Illinois stated it intends to work with allies from both parties to override the veto. Orr also noted his continuing commitment to see AVR passed in Illinois.

“Nearly 700,000 people in Illinois remain registered at addresses where they no longer live,” Orr said. “AVR was going to fix this.

“This is a terribly important issue,” Orr added. “Every day, we see attempts to suppress voting. Modern technology has ways to register. To my mind, it is criminal not to adopt those technologies. People move a lot and don’t realize they have to register again. This is a solution to this problem.”

Davis recalled how obstacles to voting have fallen over time, in a nation where voting once was restricted to white male property owners.

“Over the course of our history, the demands for full equality, including access to full voting rights, have removed one barrier after another,” Davis said. “SB250, like other such initiatives across the country, seeks to remove one of the last such barriers, our antiquated system of voter registration, and replace it with a system which both guarantees the integrity of the system and simplifies and encourages participation in our democracy.”

Orr expressed concern that overturning the veto cannot be considered a sure thing. He said Illinois citizens can make the difference.

“Call legislators and ask if they are going to support the override,” Orr said. “Call, text, or email. Get friends to do it. Pressure can help. Call or send a note, and then report it back to one of the organizations advancing this.”

To contact Just Democracy Illinois and its member organizations, log on to Attempts to obtain a comment from Governor Rauner’s office were unsuccessful.