In an effort to streamline and simplify the registration process for roughly 2 million unregistered voters in Illinois, a group of elected officials gathered Friday morning to advocate for legislation that would allow automatic voter registration.
"Anyone who is eligible to vote in the state of Illinois should have access to the ballot box without any barriers," said State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who sponsored the legislation, during a press conference at the Cook County clerk's downtown Chicago office.
The bill, SB 2134, would allow the state to automatically register eligible voters while they are applying for, updating or renewing driver's licenses or state IDs with the Secretary of State. The voter registration information would be sent electronically to the applicable election authority.
Illinoisans who do not wish to register would have the opportunity to opt out.
"It's completely duplicative," Manar said, adding that residents applying for a driver's license provide information that is "more stringent" than the information required to fill out a voter registration card.
The legislation, he said, would not increase voter fraud because the information provided at the Secretary of State already addresses questions of voter eligibility.
"We're just taking two processes and putting them into one," he said.
Of roughly 8 million eligible voters in Illinois, approximately 6 million are registered to vote, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr.
In the 2014 midterm election, less than 40 percent of Illinois' eligible voters cast a ballot.
"We believe that giving people an opportunity to vote, an opportunity to register and to vote, is the best way for them to exercise their democratic options - their democratic rights - and be part of a process that changes the government in years to come," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said during the press conference.
In addition to increasing voter participation in Illinois, officials touted the legislation's ability to save the state money. Manar cited Maricopa County, Arizona, where the average electronic voter registration form cost only 3 cents to process, while processing paper voter registration forms cost 83 cents.
Orr, who said the state already has the technology in place to implement automatic voter registration, called the legislation a "win-win situation." He noted that an electronic process would reduce red-tape and increase accuracy, saying "there's a lot more mistakes made on paper, my friends."
Manar said legislators hope to get the bill passed this spring, but couldn't say how long it would take for the system to roll out.
"To me, the sooner the better," he said, adding that automatic voter registration could be in place before the November general election.
Click here for more from Friday's press conference.
Each legislator spoke of the need for bipartisan support.
"Many Republicans throughout the nation have felt that it's better to suppress voters rather than convince voters, I'd like to appeal to them to say, 'look, that's not the way you should win your elections,'" said Senate President John Cullterton (D-Chicago).
Cullerton added that he's "opened-minded" that Gov. Bruce Rauner would support the legislation, noting, "We want him to sign this bill."
The legislation has garnered 20 co-signers in the Senate and was assigned to the Executive Committee last month.
"Illinois should lead the way to open up ballot access to everyone, so that we not only increase participation but ultimately increase output from our government," Manar said.