In August, Governor Bruce Rauner signed State Bill 1933, making Illinois the latest state to implement some form of automatic voter registration. Under this new law, which takes effect immediately, Illinois citizens will be automatically registered to vote when they register or renew their driver’s license.
The bill is similar to the one that Rauner vetoed a little more than a year ago. At the time, Rauner feared that automatic voter registration opened up the door for voter fraud, a concern that most experts say is totally unfounded despite its hold on the political Zeitgeist in the past few years.
Since then, Democrats have worked to make the bill more palatable for the Republican Governor, especially as political pressure from grassroot activist campaigns mounted.
“We retooled parts of this plan based on suggestions from both sides of the aisle. There’s no plausible reason Gov. Rauner shouldn’t sign it the moment it lands on his desk,” State Senator and co-sponsor of the Bill Andy Manar (D) said in a statement in May, according to Huffington Post.
And as it would happen, they succeeded.
“This is good bipartisan legislation and it addresses the fundamental fact that the right to vote is foundational for the rights of Americans in our democracy,” Rauner said during the bill signing ceremony in Chicago, as reported by The Washington Post. “We as a people need to do everything we can to knock down barriers, remove hurdles for all those who are eligible to vote, to be able to vote.”
Proponents of the bill are celebrating. They believe that it will help to reduce the barriers to civil engagement, thereby enabling more people to take part in the electoral process. Critics, on the other hand, still believe that automatic voter registration bills are problematic, in part because they feel it can lead to potential voter fraud, but also because they feel it is a governmental overreach.
In 2015, Oregon was the first state to sign a law for automatic voter registration. Like the Illinois bill, the DMV was central to their plan.
As of 2015, 218 million of the nearly 245 million American adults had a driver’s license. That means the DMV database has important information like social security and citizenship status for 89% of the entire population, making it an ideal agency to handle voter registration.
Since then, the law has been deemed a success, with more than half of all registered voters participating in the 2016 election, according to the New York Times.
The United States has a complicated history with voting rights. Over the past two and a half centuries, voting rights have spread beyond landholding white men, always marching towards greater inclusion. In 1920, women won for themselves the right to vote after a long campaign of suffrage.
Americans of color were granted the right fifty years earlier in 1870, but oppressive measures during the reconstruction and Jim Crow era made it near impossible for many African Americans to exercise the right to vote. That changed with the passing of the Voting Rights Act the year after the Civil Rights act passed, banning discrimination in public facilities.
And while there might still be a great deal of controversy and speculation over voting rights, bills like SB1933 keep progress moving forward.