Cook County Clerk David Orr submitted this written testimony for today's hearing in support of Senate Bill 2134 - Automatic Voter Registration. Noah Praetz, Orr's Director of Elections, also spoke in favor of the legislation at the Senate Executive Subcommittee on Election Law hearing Tuesday afternoon in Chicago.
Chairperson Harmon, Senator Raoul and Senator Luechtefeld, thank you for convening this hearing and continuing to push the envelope on voter registration modernization in Illinois.
Last year, when we passed HB 172, it settled the question of access to the voting booth by allowing election day registration – which will be fully implemented with the March 2016 primary – and it expanded methods that make registrations more portable when you move, such as National Change of Address updates and participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center. We are already reaping those rewards, with nearly 250,000 voter registrations statewide updated with the NCOA post office data this fall.
This year, we urge you to settle the question of voter registration accuracy. That is largely what automatic voter registration will give election administrators – more data to keep our registrations current and accurate.
As you know, the movement to make voter registration automatic is gaining momentum across the nation. In March, Oregon adopted the first breakthrough law and California’s law was signed by Gov. Brown on Saturday. There are bills in both chambers of Congress, as well as in 15 states including Illinois, plus the District of Columbia. Just last month, Hilary Clinton called for automatic voter registration across the nation.
There is good reason for the swell of support. According to a new report by the Brennan Center:
- 1 in 4 eligible citizens is not registered to vote
- 1 in 8 registrations is invalid or inaccurate
- 1 in 9 Americans move every year
- Voters wrongly believe their registration moves with them
Here in Illinois, we urge you to adopt automatic voter registration. Thank you Sen. Manar for introducing this important legislation.
While NCOA updates are a first step toward registration portability, SB 2134 has the potential to vastly simplify voter registration for voters and expand the address updates election authorities receive from government databases.
Let’s start with the Secretary of State’s database, which has address data on nearly all Illinoisans. However, under the current system, only 45% of address changes made with the SOS are being used as voter registration address changes. That’s a missed opportunity and inefficient. An Illinois resident should not have one address of record for voting, and another for his driver’s license or state ID.
While the Secretary of State holds the prime dataset of driver’s licenses and state IDs, we argue this bill should extend to other government agencies so that voter registration would occur whenever an eligible citizen interacts with a government office. A number of proposals in other states provide for automatic registration at social service agencies in addition to the DMV, including Georgia, Oregon and Pennsylvania and, here in Illinois, Rep. Gabel’s HB 4208.
If a person updates their address with IDES, HHS, DCFS, to name a few, that should automatically be an update for voter registration. There is no sound policy reason for not expanding the policy of automatically transferring voter information to include all contacts with state government, particularly when the interaction is online and the information is, therefore, already digitized.
This is elegant and surprisingly simple. You remove the requirement from the voter to spend time notifying each agency, and you decrease the burden on government agencies to conduct voter registration so they can attend to their more core responsibilities.
Stop asking voters or prospective voters whether they want to spend 5 minutes to register to voter or update their voter registration. Instead, tell them that the address they just gave will be their voter registration address. Of course anyone can opt out – and election day registration is there as a fail-safe in case someone is registered incorrectly.
Address updates, which represent more than 80% of our voter registration updates, should be handled slightly differently than new entrants. A new entrant should have a strong citizenship screen. An address update simply follows a voter who has already sworn to their citizenship.
Finally, this is a prime opportunity to engage more young people from the get go. We urge you to incorporate pre-registration into this bill, so that we can get 16- and 17-year-olds queued up to vote when they are eligible.
Opt-out automatic voter registration is the modern incarnation of Motor Voter, thanks to online portals and the ability to harness technology. It offers a common sense opportunity to increase participation, protect election integrity and find efficiencies between government agencies. It takes the burden off of the voter, and puts it on the government – where it belongs.
Clerk Orr and our All In election team fully support automatic voter registration, SB 2134, and its sister bill in the house. We look forward to working with you to pass automatic voter registration in Illinois.