Lawsuit could block same-day voter registration

Election day is less than two months away, but voters in Illinois may want to register to vote now.

A federal lawsuit is looking to stop same-day voter registration in the state, a program piloted in the state in 2014 during the mid-term election and made permanent in 2015. Republicans filing the suit say the same-day registration program is designed to boost voter turnout in populous, urban areas that typically vote liberally. Democrats argue the registration policy makes registration an easy and accessible option for more people in Illinois.

For many college kids settling in to the fall semester at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, registering to vote isn’t at the top of the to-do list. Right now in the state, you can register and vote on election day right on campus. But, if the lawsuit succeeds, that one-stop voting for students will end.

SIU senior Dayne Hester says he’s registered to vote, thanks to a politically-minded roommate. But, unless they can find a ride to the courthouse in Murphysboro or crews helping register students, Hester says freshmen will likely just skip voting altogether on Nov. 8.

"That just makes probably the voter turnout a lot less, and it kind of just takes the steam out of the voice of the student body here at SIU," Hester said. He says freshman already feel discouraged to vote, and he thinks that will only worsen if same-day voting ends.

Freshman Brandon Sjodin agrees that a potential change would likely result in a drop in voter turnout. But, he says, he believes it’s a good thing.

"I think that people should have to register in advance, because the people who register the day of, they are more likely to not be educated and not be as passionate," Sjodin said. He says he sent in his registration form a few weeks back and hasn’t heard if he’s registered yet for the November election. But, he says if he’s not ready to vote in time, that’s on him. He says if people are passionate about voting, they should take the time to make sure they’re registered ahead of time.

Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt says in a regular year, they register around 3,000 to 5,000 people between now and Election Day. He says before same-day registrations were allowed, they were forced to turn away big numbers of college students who wanted to vote on election day. He says during the March primaries when most students were off-campus for spring break, they still managed to complete 250 same-day voter registrations. Statewide, he says 110,000 voters registered at the polls. He says if the courts suddenly rule they have to stop same-day voting registration or expand it to every poll site, they’ll likely be scrambling to meet all the new state criteria in time.

"Exactly how they rule could either affect all of us or not make any changes at all, just depending on which way it goes," Reinhardt said. He says for now, it’s a waiting game as they look to the courts for instructions on voter registration.

Reinhardt says if same-day voter registration suddenly becomes unavailable, they’ll have to hit campuses like SIU hard to make sure that anyone who wants to vote is registered come November. Reinhardt says the more people they can register ahead of time, the faster and easier it will be come Nov. 8, regardless of which way the court rules.

John Jackson with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute says the lawsuit over same-day voter registration is indicative of a larger, national debate on the topic. A decision on the registration rules in Illinois is expected in the coming weeks.

Early voting will begin in Murphysboro on Sept. 29 and run through Nov. 7. It begins in Carbondale on Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 7. Crews will be out from the county helping register voters with two forms of ID around Carbondale in the three weeks before election day. Online voter registration is available for people with an Illinois driver’s license or ID card until 16 days before the election on www.elections.il.gov.

For more information on registration, call the office of the Jackson County Clerk at 618-687-7360   or visit the website at http://www.jacksoncounty-il.gov/government/departments-a-z/clerk-and-recorder. 

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