On the heels of an election with abysmally low turnout – the worst since World War II – comes some excellent news from the Midwest: Illinois passed legislation late Wednesday allowing eligible voters to both register and cast a ballot on Election Day!
States with same day registration (offered on Election Day and often during early voting periods as well) typically report voter turnout up to 12 percentage points higher than those without the reform in place. And most poll workers surveyed in states with SDR favor its implementation. That’s a win for voters and poll workers alike.
Thanks to the hard work of Common Cause and other advocates, Election Day Registration will become permanent in Illinois. A trial program in the last general election saw nearly 9,000 Illinoisans add their names to the voter rolls on Election Day. The election reform bill passed Thursday also adds Illinois to the list of states using ERIC, a multi-state voter registration data-sharing cooperative, and permits the state to convert government agency transactions more easily into voter registration address updates.
The progress in Illinois bucks a national trend of unfortunate setbacks to voting rights and electoral reform. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, Texas imposed restrictive photo ID. Ohio has cut back on early voting. And North Carolina, in addition to curbing early voting and cutting out-of-precinct ballot acceptance, eliminated same day registration. The rest of the country should take the cue. To date, 12 states plus the District of Columbia have passed same day registration, and it’s no surprise that eight of the nine states with the reform in place for the 2012 presidential election were among the top 20 states for voter turnout. By allowing people to register and vote at the same time, this reform streamlines the electoral process.
As Common Cause observed in a recent report on state progress in implementing the recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, “Did We Fix That?” voting should not be an endurance sport. It is downright un-American of us to place obstacles in front of what many consider the most important of all constitutional rights.
Voter turnout, whether for presidential or mid-term elections, must improve if we’re to continue to call our system a democracy. It is absolutely vital that barriers to voting be torn down so that the voices of all Americans can be heard as we grapple with issues from climate change, to immigration reform, economic inequality, police brutality, and a host of others. And along with same day registration and other electoral reforms, we must see that Congress restores the protections of the Voting Rights Act. We can’t afford to lose good reforms already on the books. Legislators seeking to curb access to the ballot box simply must be stopped.
For now, let’s celebrate victory in Illinois. Congratulations to the Prairie State and those advancing this great cause. Let’s make this the first in a series of falling dominos!