Testimony in support of SB1933 Automatic Voter Registration

Testimony in support of SB1933 Automatic Voter Registration

Every American – Republican, Democrat, or Independent – has a fundamental right to vote and have their voted counted. Our democracy works best when everybody makes his or her voice heard on Election Day.

Chairperson Harmon, Spokesperson Nybo, and honorable members of the committee: thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony in support of Senate Bill 1933, Automatic Voter Registration.

We are submitting this testimony on behalf of Just Democracy Illinois, a broad-based and diverse coalition of 19 organizations that works to protect and promote the value of every single vote, no matter the geographic, racial, ethnic or party affiliation of the voter. Our steering committee includes Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago, CHANGE Illinois, Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Chicago Votes, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights, and Illinois Public Interest Research Group, and our campaign for Automatic Voter Registration has been endorsed by a diverse collection of over 65 organizations from around Illinois.

Just Democracy Illinois strongly supports Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). Every American – Republican, Democrat, or Independent – has a fundamental right to vote and have their voted counted. Our democracy works best when everybody makes his or her voice heard on Election Day. Unfortunately, not everybody does, due, in part, to an outdated system of voter registration. For example, during the 2012 presidential election, over a million eligible voters in this state tried to vote, but were unable to do so because of voter registration problems. Sadly, Illinois lags behind the nation and region in voter participation.

Voting is the most basic way to participate in our democracy and serves as a building block to more active involvement in public life. We should make every effort to increase voter participation by making voter registration and the act of voting as simple and accessible to all eligible voters as possible.

Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993, also known as “Motor Voter,” when an individual applies for a driver’s license or state ID, Drivers Services is required to provide the individual with the opportunity to register to vote. The NVRA requires the same of certain state agencies that provide social services.

In current practice, individuals must opt in to registering, i.e. they must affirmatively take action to fill out a voter registration application at the agency, even if the agency already has the necessary information for a completed application. AVR changes this process from opt-in to opt-out. That is, when an eligible citizen interacts with Drivers Services or another NVRA state agency, the agency will use existing information that they already have to complete a voter registration application, unless the individual affirmatively declines to register.

AVR is new in the United States, but variations of this practice exist in most developed democracies. AVR was first passed by Oregon two years ago, and in its first year of implementation has seen great success. In the first three months of implementation, Oregon registered over 34,000 voters through Motor Voter, while before they averaged 2,000 people a month. In just the last two years, seven states – Alaska, California, Colorado Connecticut, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia – and the District of Columbia have enacted AVR. Last year, AVR passed both Chambers with broad bipartisan support.

There are many reasons to support Automatic Voter Registration. First, AVR will strengthen our democracy. AVR promises to add many more eligible Illinois voters to the rolls, making it more likely they will participate in elections. Last year, a national study estimated that AVR would add 1.13 million eligible Illinois voters to the rolls.

Second, AVR will make our voter rolls more accurate and secure. Our outdated system of registering voters has led to 1 in 8 registrations in America being either invalid or containing significant errors. AVR will make our voter rolls more accurate by eliminating much of the human error that comes with paper forms, by more frequently updating records when people move, and by eliminating duplicate records. SB1933 has multiple mechanisms to ensure that individuals who are not eligible to vote are not registered. By making our voter lists more accurate, this proposal will reduce the chance that anyone will be able to take advantage of gaps in our system.

Third, for many of the same reasons AVR is more accurate, it is also more efficient and,over time, will save taxpayers money. Of the 29 states that tracked cost savings of electronic and online registration, there was unanimity that electronic and online registration reduces costs. Illinois is almost done implementing one of the key pieces of AVR already – the secure electronic transfer or records from state agencies to elections officials.

Finally, AVR will improve election administration for elections officials. Local elections officials often deal with a surge at voter registration deadlines. AVR will “smooth out” voter registration, saving time and resources in the busy election season. It will also reduce the number of voters who use Election Day Registration. In the March 2016 primaries, Cook County found that 75% of election day registrants used an ID with an address that matched the address at which they were registering to vote. These voters would be on the voter list and out of the election day registration line with AVR.

Based on our conversations and negotiations with the Office of the Governor, this year’s legislation has one key policy change – moving the opt out from a “back end” process to a “front end” process. That is, every applicant will have the opportunity to affirmatively opt out while interacting with the state agency. Based on this policy change, the legislation is restructured and is largely the same as the Republican legislation introduced in the fall Veto Session and reintroduced this session by Representative Fortner (HB626). Representatives from our coalition will be happy to detail those differences with the committee or any member of the committee.

Just Democracy Illinois has had ongoing conversations with legislators from both chambers and parties, the Office of the Governor, national experts, local elections officials and state agencies to provide input on how best to implement AVR in Illinois. We look forward to passing legislation that creates a more modern, accurate, and secure voter registration system for Illinois.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide written testimony today. We will be happy to answer any questions members of the committee may have.