Gov. Bruce Rauner did the right thing when he signed legislation giving 17-year-olds who turn 18 by Election Day in November the right to vote in primary elections. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it again when the General Assembly sent him a more important and far-reaching voter expansion initiative.
Rauner on Aug. 12 vetoed SB250, which would have made voter registration automatic in Illinois and would have put the Land of Lincoln at the forefront of a movement toward more open, efficient and verifiable voting that’s already underway in five other states.
The legislation garnered strong bipartisan support, passing 86-30 in the House and 50-7 in the Senate on the last day of the spring session in May. It then sat on the governor’s desk for two months, during which time he said nothing publicly about the bill one way or another—that is, until he vetoed it.
If Rauner had signed the bill, people seeking a driver’s license or other state services would automatically be registered to vote—unless they opted out. Illinois currently lets people opt in to register or update their registration when they visit state Department of Motor Vehicles facilities.
The bill would have allowed state agencies to add people to the voter rolls as early as January 2018. But advocates who negotiated with the Rauner administration on potential changes to the bill told the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets that talks broke down in early August when Rauner’s team sought to push the start date to January 2019. Rauner, we should note, would be on the ballot for re-election in November 2018.
The governor says the bill created too many opportunities for what he called “inappropriate voting” and “inadvertent voter fraud,” and put the state in danger of violating federal voting laws. He unfurled a checklist of changes that he believes would make the bill more airtight.
The governor’s objections wobble under close scrutiny, however. On Capitol Fax, a political website of Crain’s contributor Rich Miller, Abe Scarr of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, which helped draft the original legislation, knocked down Rauner’s objections one by one, chiefly the worry that eligibility requirements would be inadequately enforced at the DMV and that potential voters would be registered regardless of their eligibility.
The bill’s supporters say they’ll pursue an override. They should.
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