CHICAGO — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a measure Monday allowing automatic voter registration in Illinois, a move that comes a year after he rejected a similar measure over concerns about voter fraud.
Illinois joins more than half a dozen other states with some form of automatic registration, which proponents say boosts civic participation.
"This is good bipartisan legislation and it addresses the fundamental fact that the right to vote is foundational for the rights of Americans in our democracy," Rauner said at a Chicago bill-signing ceremony attended by voter rights groups and Democratic lawmakers. "We as a people need to do everything we can to knock down barriers, remove hurdles for all those who are eligible to vote, to be able to vote."
He said the new law addressed his previous concerns about fraud and errors.
Under the Illinois measure, eligible individuals will be automatically registered unless they opt out when they visit secretary of state offices for driver's license services and other state agencies. The measure had wide bipartisan support in the Democratic-majority Legislature.
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said she's cautiously optimistic about the law, but she still has questions about whether it's adequately funded. She and Logan County Clerk Sally Turner said in May they suspected it would not be.
The law takes effect immediately but will be implemented in phases.
Most of the changes will take place ahead of the November 2018 election when Rauner is seeking a second term, including a major update of voter files and registrations through the Illinois secretary of state's offices. Other agencies will be on board by July 2019.
Bloomington Election Commission Executive Director Paul Shannon said in May that tweaking how records get to election officials, alongside automatic registration, could mean "registrations would come to us better filled out.”
“It may reduce some of our time for verifying the records,” he said.
Legislators approved a previous version of the bill last year, but Rauner vetoed it over concerns it didn't do enough to safeguard against voter fraud.
Supporters, including election officials and public interest groups statewide, said it will modernize the system, save money and improve turnout in elections.
"We'll have more people registered everywhere in Illinois. We'll have less paperwork. We'll have fewer people trying to figure out last-minute registrations in the final weeks before an election," Chicago Election Board Commissioner Jonathan Swain said in a statement. "Everybody wins in this system."
McLean County Board member Carlo Robustelli, a Democrat, agreed.
"Access to voting will be easier for Illinoisans, and that's a good thing," he said on Facebook. "Thanks to everyone who made their voices heard on this important issue."
Some opponents had initially raised concerns about it leading to registering ineligible people.
Voting experts have said there isn't widespread election fraud in the country. But the new Illinois law comes as President Donald Trump has appointed a commission to probe the integrity of the voting system, including practices that "could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting."
Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and state election systems prompted concerns about U.S. election security.
Oregon became the first state to automatically register voters with a 2015 law. It led to a surge in new voters last year. Other states including California, Vermont and West Virginia have adopted similar laws, with roughly two dozen other states considering automatic voter registration measures.
The legislation is Senate Bill 1933.