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Editorial: Registration ban won't help problem

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Illinois has a couple of months before the General Assembly returns for its fall veto session. Let's hope that's enough time for lawmakers to vet Gov. Rauner's veto of needed voter registration changes.

Last week, the governor vetoed a proposal (passed by both chambers) that would implement automatic voter registration when someone gets or renews a driver's license or state identification card. It's a move beyond the "motor-voter" process that allows people to choose to register when getting or renewing those documents.

Instead, the proposal would make that registration automatic unless the registrant opts out.

Information from the automatic registration would be sent from the Secretary of State's Office to the Illinois State Board of Elections for verification, according to a story by the Lee Enterprises capitol bureau. The information then would go to local election authorities, who would handle the actual registration.

Rauner, in his veto message, wondered whether the idea was fully thought through. What if the people who are automatically registered aren't citizens? The Secretary of State's office, which oversees driver registration and state ID cards, isn't set up to check citizenship. 

Point made, Governor. And it's a good one - but not good enough to fully do away with the idea.

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To his credit, the governor didn't suggest doing away entirely with automatic registration. It seems he just wants the proposal to contain the extra steps to verify the legality of someone registered to vote.

Illinois has a long and storied history of ineligible people casting votes - sometimes several votes - and sometimes from beyond the grave. Voter rolls need to be purged periodically, and most are, and registrars make sure that voters are legally able to cast a ballot.

That means residency and citizenship. And citizenship is not required to have an Illinois driver's license.

All that aside, it's wise to remember the reason behind the automatic registration proposal.

An alarming number of people are not registered to vote, or choose not to cast a ballot. That means a relatively small number of people - those who do vote - make the decisions that affect the rest of the state. Automatic registration also might help quell lines on Election Day, where same-day registration now is allowed.

The Lee bureau reported that Rauner said he would continue working with supporters to craft a proposal that “meets our shared goals while complying with federal law and preventing voter fraud.”

There is time to get that work done before the fall veto session, and that should be the goal of the governor and the registration supporters.

In the meantime, lawmakers should consider overriding Rauner's veto and then amending the legislative bill if problems do, in fact, arise.

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