A new voting reform is sweeping the nation called Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). California, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and West Virginia have all passed variations of AVR to bring more people into the voting process.
The time is right for such a reform, as our voter turnout rates are the lowest in the U.S. since World War II. And here in Illinois, an AVR proposal (supported by Common Cause Illinois and our 65 organizational members in the Just Democracy Coalition) passed the State Senate 42-16 last week with bipartisan support.
AVR will help clean our voting rolls through a streamlined process by which government agencies will share information to ensure accuracy while making the process of voter registration less confusing and intimidating to voters. AVR would also make the management of voter records and registering eligible voters much easier for election administrators.
Typically, expanding the right to vote has been seen as a reform supported exclusively by the Democratic Party. In fact, when Illinois recently enacted Online Voter Registration and then Same Day Registration, the vote went down partisan lines with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against the reform.
But this time around, Republicans have a chance to work across the aisle on a voting reform that should be seen as an advantage for both political parties. It is estimated that AVR will bring over 2 million voters into the election process. For Republicans who have been in the minority in Illinois for so long, this should be seen as a welcoming opportunity to reach voters that have become discouraged with Illinois politics.
It seems Republicans acutely understand this current climate of mistrust of our government. According to the document called “Illinois Republican Party Platform” published in 2012, “We sense the concern and growing outrage of the people of Illinois in having their trust so egregiously violated, and we join them and call on them to join us in seeking reform of Illinois government.”
In a state where we have seen two of our last four governors go to jail followed by the longest budget impasse in our state’s history, bringing more people into the political process should be a leading agenda item to bring about the reform that the Republican Party says is necessary.
Early results from the newly enacted AVR program in Oregon supports this analysis. For example, Republican registrants aged 18-29 turned out to vote at a 20.3% rate, while Republicans not registered though AVR had voted at just a 12.7% rate.
AVR is a Republican-friendly reform because it cleans up our state voting roles electronically as all eligible voters automatically become registered, unless an individual “opts out” of the system. In a state where our current voter rolls are a mess – supporting this reform should be a no-brainer.
In a state with a history of partisan politics and political gridlock, both Democrats and Republicans should support the current AVR proposal, SB250, that is now slated for a hearing in the House Executive Committee this Sunday, and then potentially to the Governor’s desk.
Common Cause urges members of the Republican Party to become advocates for AVR to achieve what leaders of the party wrote in their platform document when stating their commitment “…to protect the voting rights of all citizens of the State of Illinois.”
It is time that Illinois Republicans take these words to heart and take action to help pass a voting rights reform that is good for our democracy, no matter one’s political affiliation.
Issues: Voting and Elections