SPRINGFIELD — Nearly 187,000 people were registered to vote since July 1 through the state’s automatic voter registration system, the state Board of Elections said in a recent report to the Illinois General Assembly.
Despite that, a group of voting rights advocates said Secretary of State Jesse White has been slow in implementing the law and that it is violating both state and federal voter registration laws.
White’s office denies the charge and said it is working to fully implement the automatic voter registration law, which requires that eligible people be automatically signed up to vote, unless they opt out, when they visit secretary of state offices for driver's license services and other state agencies. Currently, AVR only happens in Illinois at secretary of state offices, but it will expand to other state agencies next year.
The Board of Elections released statistics showing automatic voter registration activity from July 1 until Nov. 26. The elections board said 186,804 people were registered to vote during that period through automatic voter registration.
Of that number, 60,976 were new registrations from people who had never been registered before. Another 125,828 were people who had voter registration information that was updated.
The board reported that 10,371 automatic registrations were rejected, primarily because they were found to be duplicates.
“Automatic voter registration is up and running and it’s going very well,” said White spokesman Henry Haupt.
Not so, says Just Democracy, a coalition of organizations that advocate for voting rights, including Common Cause, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and CHANGE Illinois.
The group sent a letter to White’s office outlining ways it said White’s office has failed to properly implement automatic voter registration and gave his office 90 days to fix the problems. The letter said the groups are “prepared to move forward with litigation to protect the rights of Illinois voters” should a resolution not be reached.
Ami Gandhi of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said registration rates for whites is “noticeably greater” than it is for minority populations and that the disparity is even greater in Illinois than other states.
A part of the law requires that registration occur automatically unless a person says they don’t want to register. Previously, people who visited drivers’ facilities were supposed to be asked if they wanted to register while they were obtaining or renewing a drivers license. The switch from an opt-in to an opt-out system was an important part of the new law.