Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill Friday that would have brought automatic voter registration to Illinois.
The legislation sought to use data from five state agencies, including the Secretary of State's office, to automatically register Illinois voters. The bill, which passed with supermajority votes in both chambers, would let voters opt out of the program if they so choose.
In his veto message, Rauner expressed concern that components of the legislation clash with federal law. He also cited the possibility of voter fraud.
"The consequences could be injurious to our election system," he wrote. "We know that non-citizens have registered to vote in Illinois after obtaining a driver's license and voted in recent elections. Among other documented cases, a citizen of Kenya registered to vote and voted in the 2004 election, and citizens of Peru and the Philippines registered to vote and voted in the 2006 election. Each of these cases of voter fraud was caught by immigration officials, not the State of Illinois."
Rauner also raised questions about the reliability of state agency information, the measure's implementation timeline and resources needed for the effort.
Nonetheless, the governor said he is "hopeful that these concerns can be addressed and we can together enact a bill that achieves our shared goals."
Rauner recommended several changes he would like made to legislation:
- The Secretary of State should only transit voter registrations for which it has been able to verify citizenship and should indicate which identification documents were checked. As part of REAL ID compliance, this information will be available to the Secretary of State for any person seeking to obtain a REAL ID-compliant license. Proponents indicated that the bill intends for this screening; the bill should make this a clear requirement.
- Other State agencies, other than the Secretary of State, should check voter registrations against their available citizenship records when possible before submitting those registrations to the State Board of Elections. Each of the four State agencies identified in the bill has access to that information. If the agency does not have citizenship-related information for a particular person, the applicant must attest by signature to meeting the qualifications to vote.
- The Secretary of State and each other State agency should notify a potential applicant whether or not he or she is currently registered to vote, based on information provided from a State master voter file, and if so at what address. If the person is already registered to vote at another address, the agency should confirm that the person desires to update his or her address, before automatically processing an errant address change. If the person is not registered to vote, and requests not to be, the State agency should honor that request.
- The bill should define "reliable State government source", which is a source of information that may be used for completing a voter registration. The bill should set out a process for how other information sources are added to the list of reliable sources, as currently contemplated by the bill.
- The bill should set out a realistic implementation deadline, and we should provide the State Board of Elections and other implementing agencies with adequate resources. We must also recognize that county clerks and other local election authorities will incur costs in implementing this bill. The bill allows e-mail notices to be used for certain purposes; we should examine expanding e-mail use to reduce costs for the State and local election authorities.
"Proponents have expressed willingness to make some of these changes, while others remain in discussion," Rauner noted. "I thank the proponents, sponsors, and legislative staff for continuing to work with my Administration to address these concerns. I hope we can complete this work and pass a bipartisan election bill in the near future."
Among those reacting to the governor's veto is Cook County Clerk David Orr, who stated in part:
With today's veto, Gov. Bruce Rauner condemned 700,000 hard working Illinoisans to another unnecessary interaction with government. I am greatly disappointed by the governor's veto of SB 250, the Automatic Voter Registration bill that was passed with bipartisan support in the state legislature in May. Automatic Voter Registration is a proven good government measure that would have significantly helped modernize and streamline the state's voter registration rolls, while taking the registration burden off the backs of Illinois voters.
The consequences of the governor's decision are many, and seriously detrimental to the efficient administration of elections throughout the state of Illinois. The bill would have allowed modern technology to update voting records quite easily. Today's action sends a clear signal to voters that the governor would rather work to impede, not expand access to the vote.
Groups that advocated for the automatic voter registration bill also responded to Rauner's veto with disappointment.
"By vetoing this bill, Governor Rauner has denied the people of Illinois a modern voter registration system that was supported by both Republicans and Democrats," said Brian Gladstein, executive director of Common Cause Illinois. "Automatic Voter Registration will save money, shorten lines on Election Day, and ensure that every eligible voter can participate in our democracy. Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature should join together to override this egregious example of executive overreach."
Trevor Gervais, lead organizer of Common Cause Illinois, accused Rauner of "playing politics," saying that the governor's staff "explained that a primary reason he did not sign the bill is because he wants to delay implementation until 2019, after the next gubernatorial election."
"Playing politics with something as important as voting rights is absolutely unacceptable," Gervais stressed. "The bill was drafted with input from all stakeholders, including county clerks, the State Board of Elections, and the Secretary of State's office, who made it clear that there was no problem with the original implementation date of January 1, 2018."
Common Cause Illinois is affiliated with Just Democracy Illinois, whose members also include the Action Now Institute, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, CHANGE IL, Chicago Votes, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Illinois PIRG.
The group says it will push for a veto override.
Here is Just Democracy Illinois' statement:
We are deeply disappointed by Governor Rauner's decision to veto bipartisan automatic voter registration legislation. The Governor has said that he is 'a big fan of simplifying the voter registration process,' but his actions show otherwise. He has passed up the opportunity to be a national leader in modernizing voter registration, while creating a safer system and saving taxpayer money in the process.
While we have had productive conversations in recent weeks with the Governor's office about their concerns, those conversations could have and should have happened during the legislative process. The timeline for automatic voter registration should not be pushed back based on political calculations, and we will not accept stall tactics that delay implementation any further. Because of this veto, important initial measures to clean up Illinois voter lists will not go into effect before the November election - a missed opportunity to ensure a smoother Election Day for voters and elections officials. Just Democracy Illinois will work with our allies from both parties to override this veto.
The bill was drafted in an open fashion, taking input from key stakeholders, including county clerks who administer elections, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders. That is why it passed with broad bipartisan support: 86-30 in the House, 50-7 in the Senate.
Between Governor Rauner's veto of Automatic Voter Registration, and the pending lawsuit that seeks to stop Election Day Registration, Illinois is moving away from making the franchise more accessible, and moving toward the sort of tactics that have suppressed the vote in other states across the nation. Now is not the time for Illinois to move backward on voting rights.