New report finds many Illinois voting practices beneficial, but state still lagging in certain areas

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  • Dale Eisman

Mary Boyle, Common Cause, (202) 736-5770

Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407

Ease of registration cited as positive for voters; voter challenge laws, counting of provisional ballots remain problems

Washington, DC – A new report finds that while Illinois has implemented a voter friendly registration process and some other beneficial election practices, an overly restrictive provisional ballot-counting law and a troubling law allowing any voter to challenge any other voter’s right to vote remain on the books.

The report, “Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States,” examines Illinois election laws and policies and highlights the impact they could have on voter participation in the upcoming mid-term elections. Because Illinois is the site of a close senate race, a competitive gubernatorial race, and three tight House races, participation rates could be critical in determining election results. The report was produced by national policy centers and election watchdogs Common Cause and Demos. It also reviews voting laws and policies in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.

“Illinois does a lot of things right when it comes to elections,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “That said, in what should be a close race elections officials will have to make extra sure that poll workers are well trained and are given clear instructions, and that voters know their rights, especially with respect to possible challenges by partisans at the polls.”

“With a number of hotly contested Illinois races, we’ll be watching to make sure election laws are enforced” said Susannah Goodman, director of the Election Reform program at Common Cause and co-author of the report. “Voters in Illinois benefit from strong protections as our report shows, but a number of positive changes should still be made.”

The report examines problematic voting areas including registration, ID issues (which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license), provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting by overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

For Illinois, the report found a number of notable obstacles to full voter participation.

Voters who are “challenged” at the polls must show two forms of identification or have another voter testify to their eligibility in order to vote. Elections officials are not provided with clear standards on when to allow a challenged individual to cast a regular ballot. Any registered voter in the state may act as a designated challenger.

Provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct – even if cast at the correct polling site or in the correct county – will not be counted for any race, potentially disenfranchising a great number of eligible voters.

To the potential detriment of military and overseas voters, Illinois has no new legislation mirroring the new federal law’s requirement that absentee ballots be sent at least 45 days prior to the election to voters requesting them.

The state website provides no comprehensive translation of voting information or materials.

On the positive side, the report found some exemplary voting laws and procedures which other states would do well to emulate.

Although Illinois closes its registration books 27 days prior to Election Day, Illinois jurisdictions allow eligible citizens to register and vote at the same time between the close of regular registration and the 7th day prior to an election.

Voting rights are automatically restored to citizens when they are released from prison; citizens on parole or probation are eligible to vote.

Only first-time voters who registered by mail must provide identification, as mandated by the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

Provisional ballots are validated and counted within 14 days of the election by election officials. Voters are not required to take any additional steps.

Illinois does not jeopardize the privacy and security of overseas and military voters by accepting ballots cast by fax, e-mail, or over the Internet.

Cook County, Illinois has an exemplary program for reaching out to new citizens and limited English proficient voters.

Click here for the full report, executive summary and other swing state information.