Illinois voters may cast ballots up to three weeks before Election Day under legislation approved by the Illinois General Assembly, announced Cook County Clerk David Orr.
The legislation – passed as part of an omnibus election bill (HB 1968) – also aims to eliminate obsolete local canvassing boards and allows voters who have recently changed their names to vote without having to re-register. The bill now heads to the governor’s office for final approval.
“We should make voting as convenient as we can for registered voters, particularly the elderly and people with busy work schedules who may have difficulty making it to their polling place on Election Day,” said Orr, who pushed for the early voting legislation.
The bills sponsors included state Sen. Terry Link, House Speaker Michael Madigan and state Reps. Barbara Flynn Currie, Charles Jefferson, Julie Hamos, Elaine Nekritz, Kathleen Ryg, Karen May, Naomi Jackobsson and Sara Feigenholtz.
Early voting would take effect for the first time in Illinois prior to the March 21, 2006, gubernatorial primary election, Orr said.
The measure would allow registered voters to cast ballots in person at the main office of their local election authority or county clerk without having to provide an excuse or reason why they cannot vote on Election Day. Procedures governing current absentee voting by mail would remain in effect, and voters would still need to provide an excuse to vote by mail.
Orr plans to offer early voting at his downtown office and at village and township halls in suburban Cook County. Currently, 23 states allow no-excuse, in-person absentee voting.
Early voting would mean shorter lines on Election Day and would take the pressure off of polling place workers, increasing the chances that polling place operations would run more smoothly and reducing the risk of mistakes.
The election bill includes these other reforms that Orr had pushed:
Allowing People Who Change Their Names to Vote. Current state law prohibits election authorities from counting ballots cast by voters who have changed their name but have not re-registered to vote. This disenfranchises primarily women who have changed their last name because of marriage or divorce, but who have not moved. During the November election, the Clerk’s office disqualified 236 provisional ballots cast in suburban Cook County as a result of name changes. Many states permit such voters to cast ballots if they complete a legal affidavit in the polling place. The affidavit is forwarded to the election authority, which updates the voter’s registration record. The Ohio law served as the model for this bill.
Eliminating Local Canvassing Boards. Because local election authorities (county clerks and boards of election commissioners) conduct elections and produce the results, the role of the local canvassing boards is entirely ceremonial and no longer needed. Abolishing local canvassing boards would eliminate the tedious process of producing and sending election results tapes to the canvassing boards in all jurisdictions (villages, townships, park districts, library districts, etc.) so they can declare the winners, who are already known to the public. Because the proclamation is the sole responsibility of the canvassing boards, the task is sometimes ignored, causing delays in certifying election results and requiring the election authority to track down board members.
Orr promoted other election reforms that had success in Springfield but failed to pass both legislative chambers. They included:
HB 2416/SB 204
Abolishing Local Electoral Boards Local electoral boards rule on legal challenges lodged against the nominating petitions of candidates running for village and township offices, as well as for school boards. Although most electoral boards make fair, informed decisions, some – all made up of incumbent officeholders – have issued questionable rulings based on pointless objections in an effort to knock candidates off the ballot. This practice discourages candidates from running, promotes excessive litigation and results in costly delays in the printing of ballots. This proposal would shift the duties of local electoral boards to the county electoral boards, made up of the county clerk, state’s attorney and clerk of the circuit court, or their representatives. These boards already rule on state and countywide election issues in even years and park and library district cases in odd years. Along with providing more experience in deciding ballot objections, this proposal would reduce the frivolous challenges, encourage less partisan rulings and expedite the process to avoid last-minute ballot changes. This passed the Illinois House but stalled in the Illinois Senate.
Permitting Voters Who Registered by Mail to Vote Absentee. Requiring voters who register by mail to vote in person the first time they cast a ballot is no longer necessary. Under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), voters now must prove their identity before their registration is completed. However, Illinois remains one of the few states that continues to bar these voters from voting absentee by mail. This restriction disenfranchises many college students, disabled voters, and “snowbirds.” Before the November election, the Cook County Clerk’s office was deluged with complaints from frustrated voters who had registered by mail and whose identities and residences we had verified, but who were not allowed to vote absentee. Because many of them were scheduled to be out of town on Election Day, the law prevented them from voting. The bill would amend existing law to allow voters who register by mail to vote absentee the first time they cast a ballot. Members of the Illinois Senate approved the measure, but it later died in the Illinois House.
Extending the Provisional Ballot Counting. Thousands provisional ballots cast by eligible voters across the state were disqualified because they voted in the wrong precinct. The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) established provisional voting throughout the country as a safety net for voters whose eligibility or registration was questioned at the polls. Illinois law specifically prohibits counting provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, but 16 states currently count them. Prior to the November presidential election, the Illinois State Board of Elections recommended that election authorities count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, but many counties opted not to do so. SB 1683 would establish a uniform set of rules for the state by requiring election authorities to count provisional votes cast out of precinct where the same candidates appear on the voter’s assigned ballot.
Mandating Open Source Code. Requiring the manufacturers of touch screen voting machines to make their source code “public” and available for inspection would provide an extra safeguard against vote fraud and would bolster voter confidence. Submitting the source code – the underlying instructions for the machines’ software – for inspection would uncover any hidden programming flaws and enable the manufacturer to correct defects before Election Day. Proprietary source codes have been vulnerable to computer hackers and can result in serious security breaches in voting. Illinois law already mandates that touch screen machines come equipped with a voter verifiable paper audit trail. Making source codes available online, in addition to requiring paper receipts, would put Illinois in the forefront of voting security.
SB 1683 died in the Illinois House after it had won approval in the Illinois Senate earlier this year.