Governor Rauner Forces Republican Legislators To Abandon Bipartisan Voting Reform Measure

Governor Rauner Forces Republican Legislators To Abandon Bipartisan Voting Reform Measure

Automatic Voter Registration could have registered up to two million eligible voters in Illinois

  • Trevor Tejada Gervais

Democracy in Illinois suffered a huge blow today, as a bipartisan effort to increase voter participation and modernize the state’s outdated registration system fell victim to Big Money Politics. Legislators in the House had the opportunity to follow the Senate’s lead and override the Governor’s veto of an Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support last spring. Sadly, Governor Rauner’s fundraising stranglehold on his party overwhelmed this bipartisan spirit, and the override vote failed to garner a single Republican vote. The final tally was 67 votes in favor and 47 votes opposed – just four votes shy of the 71 needed to override the Governor’s veto.

“Money has long dominated the political landscape in Illinois,” said Brian Gladstein, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois, “but we’ve never seen anything like this. Today, we witnessed what can happen when a sitting governor uses the power of his position and his purse to threaten democratic reform.”

Had our legislators stuck to their principles, Illinois would have become the sixth state in the nation to automatically register its eligible residents to vote when they renewed their driver’s licenses or accessed certain other state services, unless they wished to opt out of the system. This secure system would not only save the taxpayers money, but it would also bring as many as two million new voters onto the state’s rolls by the year 2018.

Unfortunately, the Governor couldn’t stomach a proposal that would benefit disenfranchised voters during a reelection year, and he vetoed the bill at the eleventh hour. Republicans in both houses then introduced a watered-down version of the AVR bill just before the veto session began that had no implementation date to provide political cover to those abandoning the bill. In an unprecedented step, the Governor then used his personal fortune to keep any Republicans from voting for the original AVR measure and virtually every Republican legislator that had supported the initial bill voted against the veto override.

In 2016 alone, Governor Rauner donated almost $50 million to Republican party organizations to influence key political contests. According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, several of the House Republicans that withdrew their support for the AVR bill received huge campaign windfalls as a direct result of the Governor’s largesse:

  • For example, Rep. Michael McAuliffe raised $2,188,221 in the three months since the date of the Governor’s veto – or about 80% of all the money that his campaign managed to raise in 2016. Most of those contributions (81%) came from funds that can be traced back to the Governor.
  • Rep. Norrine Hammond’s campaign also received a substantial boost in the days following the veto, totaling $650,636 since August 12. Almost 60% of that amount was were contributed by the Governor to GOP institutions that passed the money on to her campaign.
  • Rep. Terri Bryant’s political action committee received $706,885 during this period, of which approximately 77% of which originated with Governor Rauner.

As Gladstein noted, “this was a step back for us, but our democracy is strong. Common Cause is committed to pushing back against the overwhelming influence of money in politics.”