Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed an election reform bill Thursday that legalizes touch screen voting in Illinois and enables the state to tap federal funding to make improvements in voting, said Cook County Clerk David Orr, who applauded the bill signing.
The legislation will bring Illinois in compliance with the federal standards set by the $3.9 billion Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that Congress passed last year in response to the voting problems exposed in the 2000 presidential election.
"This bill allows election authorities throughout Illinois to make needed changes aimed at simplifying the voting process, modernizing election equipment and improving accessibility for disabled voters," Orr said. "Ultimately, these resources will ensure every vote counts and will result in less confusion at the polls and in fewer ballot errors."
Key provisions of the bill include:
- Legalizing touch screen voting machines. Currently, the state only allows punch card and optical scan systems. Touch screen machines can translate the ballot into several different languages and provide for an unlimited number of candidates and races without crowding the ballot. (Cook County has the longest ballot in the nation, measuring more than four times longer than the next longest Illinois ballot.)
- Providing better access to disabled voters. The bill authorizes the placement of at least one touch screen voting machine in each polling place in the state by 2006. Touch screen machines come equipped with audio tracks and earphones to accommodate visually impaired voters.
- Making funds available to replace or upgrade existing voting machines. The bill provides money to get rid of punch cards. Orr is currently looking at using the "buy out" money to eventually replace Cook County’s entire current punch card system by 2006.
- Requiring that all counties establish a provisional balloting system. Provisional ballots are issued to voters if there is a question regarding their registration status or eligibility to vote. After the polls close, provisional ballots from each precinct are brought to the local election authority. If staff can verify that the person was registered and qualified to vote, the ballot is counted.
- Safeguarding against possible voter fraud and ensuring more accurate voting lists. The federal bill mandates that by 2004 Illinois maintain a statewide voter registration database, which will enable every clerk to cross-check their voter lists with those of other counties.
- Requiring driver’s license information on voter registration applications. Voters who register by mail must include a driver’s license number or – for applicants who do not have a license – the last four digits of their Social Security number that authorities can check against state records.
"By signing this bill into law, the state will play a valuable role in boosting the confidence of voters in elections – the cornerstone of democracy," Orr said. "These sound changes will point election authorities in the right direction and protect the rights of voters and the honesty and integrity of the electoral process.
"Governor Blagojevich obviously recognizes the importance of these changes and what they will mean for voters throughout Illinois," added Orr, noting that his office has already begun work to introduce these new procedures for the March 16, 2004 primary election.
Orr, the former election committee chairman for the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks (NACRC), is an appointed adviser to the Election Assistance Committee created under HAVA. He also serves on the 20-member National Commission of Election Standards and Reform, which examines improvements in voting technology and election procedures.