The next phase phase of Illinois’ Automatic Voter Registration law took effect Monday as the Secretary of State’s office will begin the process of “opt-in” voter registration at its driver services facilities.
But AVR in Illinois still has another year to go until it’s fully implemented and can begin adding the promised 1 million or more new voters to the rolls, as supporters promised.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed AVR into law in August, after he vetoed an earlier bill in 2016, and Republicans refused to buck the governor and override his veto.
In this second phase of AVR’s implementation, those who contact the Secretary of State’s office through its driver services facilities will be notified of his or her current voter registration status — whether or not he or she is registered, and at which address — and will be asked whether or not they would like to update that information.
Instead of a paper form like in years past, that information will be recorded on an electronic touchpad, sent digitally to the State Board of Elections and transferred to local election authorities.
Full implementation of AVR through the Secretary of State’ office isn’t expected to be a done deal until early 2019, when Illinois is in compliance with federal Real ID standards, which mandate that identification cards like driver’s licenses are equipped with special security features that make them more difficult to falsify. Illinois is on its second extension to comply with Real ID. The Secretary of State’s office has said it will be in compliance by October.
Illinois cannot implement the second phase of the AVR law until it meets the standards laid out by the Real ID law, which is designed to identify non-citizens in an effort to prevent them from accidentally register to vote because they do not understand the process.
“Without Real ID, the [Secretary of State] does not collect citizenship information,” said Abe Scarr of the Illinois Public interest Resource Group, the main proponent of the law. “Until we have that for every applicant, we don’t want it to be opt-out…you may accidentally register people who shouldn’t be registered, like non-citizens. Nobody wants that to happen.”
Illinois PIRG, a consumer advocacy organization, pushed for the AVR law, along with a coalition of voting rights and immigrant rights groups. When he vetoed the 2016 version of the law, Rauner said he was concerned about the potential for voter fraud, including accidental registration of non-citizens who aren’t proficient English speakers.
The first phase of Illinois’ AVR law took effect late last year, when Illinois began automatically updating voter registration records through the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit data sharing project born out of a multi-state compact and associated with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Illinois had initially joined ERIC in 2014, when the same day voter registration law passed in veto session that year.
The 22 states and Washington, D.C. that participate in ERIC share information about citizens’ change of address, and automatically update voters’ registration when they move and fill out change of address forms.
The third phase of the AVR law won’t be fully implemented until July 1, 2019, when citizens can be registered to vote through contact with state agencies including the Illinois Departments of Human Services, Employment Security, Financial and Professional Regulation, and Natural Resources.
Scarr said those advocating for the bill were willing to give the state extra time to implement this phase, as interactions with those agencies are more complicated than those done at driver services facilities through the Secretary of State.
Asked Monday if the Secretary of State’s office planned to do any sort of public information campaign on AVR’s newest phase, spokesman Dave Druker said the agency is looking at it.
“It would be fair to say we’ll be talking about it more,” he said. “We’re still in the early phase of it here but we’re very optimistic it’s going to go very smoothly.”
Estimates vary as to how many voters Illinois could add to its rolls due to AVR, but Scarr pointed to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Demos in 2015, which estimated that Illinois could stand to gain 1.13 million voters. The data is based on of the success of Oregon’s AVR law, the first in the nation.
But Scarr said there are differences between Illinois’ law and Oregon’s, and also warned critics and supports to withhold immediate judgment on the law’s impact
“It’s not going to happen immediately,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated when Illinois joined ERIC.